This post concludes our series on the memorable plays of 2012. As you'll be shocked to learn, the grand prize goes to Jadeveon Clowney's forced fumble on Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl. For those of you for whom this play isn't burnt permanently into your deep subconscious (which is probably none of you, even if you're not a Carolina fan), here's the footage:
I thought about trying to be the cool guy by picking a less hyped play for number one in this series, but really, I just couldn't do it. This play is simply too awesome. How did it unfold? Michigan is lined up in the I with the tight end on the left side. The Wolverines run power to that side. It appears that the TE was supposed to put a block on Clowney before going to the second level, slowing Clowney down just long enough for the right guard to pull and trap block Clowney out of the play. Smith discusses the play here, and adds that the fullback doesn't help with Clowney because he's picking up a blitzing Vic Hampton. With his blazing first step, Clowney gets into the backfield before the guard has a chance to block him. Clowney gets to Smith literally as Smith takes the hand-off, with Smith in no position to attempt to evade the tackle. The rest is history.
There's been so much said about this play that I'm not sure what can be added, but I'll note a couple of things. First of all, the extent to which rival fans have gone to discredit this play has been very noticeable. How many times have you seen an UGA or Clemson homer say it's easy to level a hit like that for a player who comes in unblocked? Anyone who says this isn't being honest with himself (some of these are just folks who simply won't give us credit for having great players, probably the same UGA fans who thought Marcus Lattimore was an average tailback after the 2010 Southern Miss game), or just doesn't pay attention to what actually distinguishes great players like Clowney. There is clearly some miscommunication along Michigan's offensive line on this play, but that kind of thing happens sometimes. Not all such miscommunications, though, end in once-in-a-generation hits. It's Clowney's recognition of the play, fluid inside move, violent-yet-textbook hit on Smith, and effortless palmed fumble recovery that make this play the masterpiece it is, as opposed to just another busted play for a short loss by the offense. One thing that makes great players great is that they make you pay dearly for every mistake. That's what Clowney does here.
The other thing that's struck me while wading through the innumerable discussions, gifs, etc., of this play is that watching it in isolation doesn't do the play anywhere near enough justice. One of the things that made this play so incredibly awesome while watching it live was that it righted the world after what was likely the worst call I've ever seen in a football game:
I'm not usually one to harp too hard on officials. Sure, I have some beefs with some things they do, such as the inconsistent way they seem to apply holding rules from game to game. Still, I recognize that oftentimes, what seems to us an obviously bad call is, on the field, a split-second judgment by the referee, and many booth calls remain judgment calls to some degree, as well. The job isn't as easy as it looks. What happened on this fourth-down play, though, wasn't a judgment call. The ball was a few inches short of the first-down marker, simple as that. Somehow, though, Big East official Jeff Maconaghy gets this one wrong. Then, when we challenge what appeared to have been a favorable spot (not that should have mattered, considering that even that spot wasn't enough for a first down), the officials chose not to find a way to rectify the issue, despite the fact that they admitted after the game that they knew at the time that Maconaghy had made a blunder.
In any event, suffice it to say that The Hit shouldn't have even happened, considering that we should have had the ball after Michigan's fake punt. That part of the story has gotten surprisingly little play by the media, which I find somewhat surprising considering that the blown call would have been one of the talks of the bowl season had we lost the game. Perhaps that's what makes The Hit so incredible, though. Clowney did something so transcendent that he righted an unjust world, causing us to forget the injustice that had necessitated the play in the first place. Nice Heisman hype narrative, right? Maybe we should thank Maconaghy for his mistake.