This post concludes our series on the best plays of 2012. The winner is Alshon Jeffery's jump-ball catch to beat Mississippi State. In a sad twist of fate, I'm having trouble with Youtube videos on the day on which I had been planning for weeks to post the concluding piece in this series. However, you all know the play, so we can proceed without a replay for the time being.
This play wasn't the prettiest of the season. It wasn't as perfect as the Connor Shaw's pass to Bruce Ellington against Clemson. It wasn't as shocking as Jeffery's hail-mary catch against Nebraska. It wasn't a mastermind play-call like the fake punt against UGA. Indeed, it was about as routine as it gets for a goal-line play on third-and-goal from a few yards out. Everyone in the stadium knew we would be throwing it to Jeffery. We did, and he got in the air and made the play. It was a well-executed bread-and-butter goal-line play. Nice throw, nice catch. In a way, pretty routine stuff, other than the fact that it got us the lead late in the game.
However, this play was much more than just a nice game-winning play. This was, perhaps, the season's gut-check moment. It seemed at the time like a play that an entire season might be hinging on, and it still seems like that in hindsight. We had lost what should have been an easy game against Auburn two weeks prior, Stephen Garcia was dismissed in the week prior to this game, and then Marcus Lattimore went down to injury shortly before this play. It certainly seemed that, at this moment, the season was on the brink of falling apart--just like so many had before. It's hard to know what would have happened if we hadn't made this play. Maybe we still would have won. We likely would have kicked a game-tying FG. Maybe we win in overtime. Or maybe Miss. St., knowing it only needs a FG, takes a more methodical approach, drives down the field, and sticks a dagger in our hearts. What then? Maybe the team rallies and goes 10-3 with a victory in the Outback Bowl. Not bad, but not the best season ever. Or maybe it falls apart loses another game to Tennessee and/or Florida. That would have been a tragedy, considering the preseason expectations. Losses like this have an impact on a team's mental makeup. I still believe the OT loss to Tennessee in 2007 ruined that team's chances of digging itself out of its hole.
We didn't have to live through any of that this time, though. Spurrier's past QBs have largely failed in this situation, but Shaw led us down the field on this drive, part of it without Lattimore, and got the ball to his star receiver for the win. Miss. St. pressed to get down the field when it got the ball and threw an interception. Carolina won, and the rest is history. This, to me, was the play that made the biggest difference in how the season turned out, and it's the play that encapsulates why last year was such a magical season for Carolina fans.