This post continues our series on the best plays of last season. We're now down to the top three. First up: number three, Alshon Jeffery's hail mary reception at the end of the first half against Nebraska. Here's the play:
2012 Capital One Bowl USC vs Nebraska - Shaw to Jeffery Hail Mary Touchdown (via SFCocking)
Why It's Here: Well, first of all, because it was a perfectly executed hail mary, and you just don't see that too often. We lined up with three receivers, including Jeffery, on the right side of the field, and we got what we wanted at the end, with all three near the goal line. Jeffery uses his height to go up above the mob and come down with the ball, and then he manages to turn around and extend for the end zone and score. Honestly, watching Jeffery come down with this ball makes me wonder why we never saw this before; as such a great jump ball receiver, Jeffery is a perfect target on a hail mary. Part of the reason that we haven't seen this yet, though, is that these plays typically never get off the ground because someone gets to the quarterback before the receivers have time to get down the field. That's where the other cool thing about this play comes in: It's all possible because we get good protection and because Connor Shaw, the one time he's pressured, uses his feet to elude the rush. Then, even though he briefly slips, Shaw launches a beautiful bomb. What you want here is a throw that not only goes the distance but that gets enough arc to give a guy like Jeffery a chance to reach above the other guys for the catch. That's exactly what Shaw throws. Well done.
The other reason this play is here is because it had a tangible effect on the game's outcome. We won this game going away, so it's easy to forget that it was close in the first half and that Nebraska was arguably outplaying us to this point. (Emphasis on "arguably.") We were, after all, losing before this play. It allowed us to take a lead into the break, and the complexion of the game changed dramatically in the second half. We weren't explosive on offense (partially because Jeffery was controversially ejected during an altercation with Alfonzo Dennard), but we pounded the ball with some success, and Arkansas simply never got going again. That's partially because we were a deeper, more physical team that was able to exert itself as the game wore on, but it's also because the hail mary gave us tons of momentum. You just got the feeling that Nebraska felt like it wasn't its day after this play.
Why It's Not Higher: As impressed as I was by how we executed this play, another part of me wants to say that hail marys are at best 20 or 30 percent execution and the rest luck. I mean, the basic idea is for the QB to throw it up there and hope someone comes down with it. Yes, the QB has to make a long throw to the right part of the field, and yes, the receivers have to fight down the field against prevent coverage and manage to come down with the ball, but this isn't a question of precision execution. It's hard to call such a play the best of the year, unless you want to premise your team's identity on luck. Also, while this play certainly had a huge effect on this game, it wasn't literally a game-deciding score.