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Memorable Plays from 2012: Number Four, Thompson Hits Ellington on the Back-Shoulder Fade against Clemson


This post continues our series counting down the best plays of 2012. For number four, we have Bruce Ellington's TD reception in the first quarter against Clemson. Here's the play:

I'll have to tell you, I really love this play. Several aspects of it. First of all, it's simply a very well-executed play. The key to the backshoulder fade is for the QB to put the ball in a place where the defender can't put a hand on it and for the receiver to use his athleticism and hands to pull the ball down. That's what you see here. Thompson puts the ball in the right place and Bruce twists up his defender and then comes down with the ball.

What's really memorable about the play, though, is that it represented a huge momentum shift. Tell me if this sounds familiar: My friends and I who were watching this game were quite nervous after hearing that Thompson was starting. Thompson had played well against ECU and UAB, but in his two outings against decent teams, he had struggled. The game had that feel of one of those epic letdowns against the Tigers that we became so accustomed to prior to the beginning of the streak. That feeling was inconsistent with the fact that the current Carolina is light years away from the one that used to get beaten by Clemson, but we felt it all the same. Clemson's players and coaches, too, were likely feeling like things were stacking up in their favor. This Ellington TD reception, though, showed that Thompson was ready to compete. It seemed to energize Carolina and tell Clemson they were in for a fight. And it gave us fans a bit of confidence.

One of the really telling aspects of this play is what happens after it. Bruce, basically, acts like he's been there before--and of course he had, having caught a deep touchdown against Clemson in 2011. He'd catch another one in this game, too. Compare his behavior to Tajh Boyd after Boyd's first rushing TD:

Boyd pretends he's Superman, while Ellington acts like it's just another TD against Clemson. When your attitude is that you'll win as long as you take care of business and your rival is searching for something to believe in and thinks any big play is a time to spaz, you're in a good place, folks.

Honestly, speaking of momentum shifts, I felt almost certain we would win this game after we gave Clemson three-and-out after the Ace Sanders's TD in the second half. In addition to Ellington's early TD's role in maintaining momentum, this game was largely about keeping Clemson from taking an early lead, as it was always likely that our more physical defense and ball-control offense would own the second half. That happened, and when we took the lead at the beginning of the third quarter and immediately sent Clemson back to the bench, the outcome began to feel like a foregone conclusion, even if we didn't immediately put it away.

When did you feel confident we'd win this game?