This post continues our series on the best plays of 2012. Number three is Dylan Thompson's game-winning TD pass to Bruce Ellington against Michigan. Here's the play:
This is really nice footage of the play that gives you several perspectives. Carolina lines up with five wide--from top to bottom, Ace Sanders, Ellington, Justice Cunnigham, Damiere Byrd, and Nick Jones are the receivers. Ellington is lined up in the slot on the right side of the field. Sanders goes on a short check-down route, Ellington and Cunningham go down the hashmarks, Byrd goes on what looks like a fly route, and Jones on some kind of medium route that's hard to get a good look at on the footage. It's a great play call because Michigan, as evidenced by the defensive approach that will be discussed below, was expecting us to go for less yardage to set up the field goal.
The next key to the play is Thompson's recognition of the rush/coverage. Michigan sends one of the safeties/nickel backs on a blitz, leaving a linebacker to cover Ellington. This isn't as risky of a blitz as it turns out to be if we're not sending Ellington deep, but we are. Ellington, needless to say, has a huge speed advantage against the linebacker. Thompson sees the blitz coming, and you better believe that he's thinking Ellington as soon as he knows it's point guard versus linebacker. (Thompson showed great blitz recognition earlier in the game, as well, when he hit Jones in a vacated part of the field for a big gain.) One important thing to note is that Sanders's short route keeps the corner away from Ellington long enough for Ellington to break free against the linebacker. The next key to the play is Ellington's adjustment on the route. The pass is just a tad short, but Ellington slows down nicely, makes the catch, and runs it in. He recognizes the incoming safety, who he lets run past him before he runs the ball in, thus avoiding a potential drop-causing collision. Great execution all around here--great read by Thompson, great adjustment by Ellington. Give Thompson credit, too, for delivering the ball before he takes hard hit from the blitzing safety/nickel back.
Of course, our appreciation of the execution on this play is made all the more sweet by the fact that the play won us a bowl game against solid Michigan team that gave us its best shot. This game has turned out to have quite a bit of appeal in the public's eye, partly for reasons we'll discuss in a future installment of this series. (SHOCKER.) The game has frequently been discussed as one of the best of the season, and the PR value of coming out on top in that kind of contest can't be understated. Plus, I'm sure we all needed a little something to sooth our souls after watching Clemson beat LSU the night before. A great moment all around.