CLEMSON -- In simplistic terms, here is how coach Tommy Bowden often characterizes Clemson's offensive philosophy:
Get the ball in the hands of one of four skill players: tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller or receivers Aaron Kelly and Jacoby Ford.
That number dwindled to three Saturday night when Ford broke his left ankle in the fourth quarter of a 30-17 romp of Maryland.
So to hear Bowden tell it, the loss will not affect what the Tigers do -- but it does cut down on their primary options.
"We've got people who can catch it," Bowden said. "We've got returners. Whoever replaces him ain't as fast, we know that."
Or as versatile, which is why Clemson will scour the village for replacement parts.
The timing of Ford's injury could not have been worse for the Tigers, who appeared to be developing offensive continuity after finally proving they could be potently balanced against an ACC defense.
Ford, the ACC's 60-meter indoor track champion, supplied Clemson with a perimeter threat they will have to do without as they try to remain in the conference title hunt, beginning with next Saturday's noon game at Duke.
He suffered the injury with 8:45 left against the Terps when his ankle got trapped underneath Maryland linebacker Adrian Moten at the end of an option run.
While the Tigers seldom used the 5-foot-9 sophomore as a downfield receiver, his ability to take off with a screen pass forced opposing defenses to play a linebacker wide, thereby slightly unclogging the middle of the field for Clemson's running game.
Even if merely a decoy, Ford complemented the rushing attack as an occasional option for an end-around. He was averaging 12.3 yards per carry and ranked third on the team in rushing yards with 172.
Senior La'Donte Harris was elevated to starting A-receiver on Clemson's latest depth chart, yet Ford's absence figures to expedite the return of junior Rendrick Taylor, who has sat out the last four games with a lingering hamstring injury.
Ford shares special-team return duties with Spiller but has proven the more productive of the two. He would rank as the ACC's second-leading kickoff returner (26.4 average) but only has eight returns, two short of qualifying for league standings.
Kelly has been the alternate kickoff returner in previous games, while freshman cornerback Marcus Gilchrist could also get a look.
After losing three starters to season-ending injuries a year ago and two more for significant periods, Ford represents the first major injury Clemson has dealt with this season.
"You hate it for the player," Bowden said. "But from a coaching standpoint, you have to keep going."
The two other starters hurt against Maryland have been listed as questionable for Saturday's game: defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson (sprained knee) and left guard Chris McDuffie (sprained ankle).
• EXTRA POINTS: Bowden said he had confidence Clemson's running game would gradually develop because of how long it took the team's previous set of linemen to mature. "Based on experience, we knew it would come around," he said. ... After using the team's low sack total to motivate the defensive line last week, Bowden appears to have moved to the linebackers this week. "It looks like we have a couple of guys who aren't real disciplined in getting to their drops," Bowden said. "If we're not going to blitz, then we need coverage sacks. Those are legal."