This post continues my series counting down my favorite plays from last season. Today, we're taking a look at Mike Davis's 53-yard TD against UCF. H/T to ChickenHoops for convincing me that this was the choice among Davis runs.
This run occurs out of the I formation; as you'll recall, after struggling to run its base offense out of the shotgun after Connor Shaw went down with a shoulder injury in the first half, Carolina came out seeking to run the I and to lean on Davis and the offensive line in the second half. Davis initially looks like he's going to run up the middle, but based on the way Carolina blocks UCF's strong side towards the right, this play was likely designed to go outside on the left all along. Notice particularly that fullback Connor McLaurin and pulling right guard Ronald Patrick immediately push to the right when they meet the defenders they're blocking. Busta Anderson seems to be running a decoy block to make his linebacker think Davis is running up the middle; once the defender sees Davis running outside, Anderson engages the defender just long enough to help Davis get past the second level. The only other defender who has a chance is the safety, who Nick Jones engages just enough to allow Davis to go into the end zone untouched.
The run really shows off something we should hope to see more of in 2014--great blocking from the offensive line out of a traditional formation and a great show of agility and then straight-line speed from Davis. With Dylan Thompson being more of a drop-back passer, it makes sense to think we'll rely more on the power run game to gain yards on the ground than we have in recent years, when Connor Shaw's mobility has made the zone-read such a threat.
This run was a very meaningful play in this game and the season as a whole. We were down by 10 at the half, and the game was very much in doubt. Davis made this run on only the fourth play of the third quarter. The first three had also been power runs for good gains, two by Davis and one by Brandon Wilds. With the short drive culminated by Davis's 53 yarder, momentum had clearly shifted. Given the ease with which we scored on this drive, it seemed unlikely that UCF would be able to stop us if we leaned on the power run game, and that indeed turned out to be the case, as Davis finished with 167 yards and three touchdowns despite almost all of his touches coming in the second half. The 53 yarder was the play that set that performance off, and along with it came a road win over a team that would win all of its other games and finish 10th in the nation in the AP poll. Carolina's season might have looked a lot different if not for what Davis did in this game.