This post continues our series recounting awesome plays from last season. Today we're talking about Connor Shaw's TD reception against Wisconsin.
The context for this play was that it capped an 86-yard drive that answered Wisconsin's first TD of the game, which the Badgers scored early in the second quarter. Shaw was one of the stars of the drive, rushing for 14 of its 19 rushing yards in addition to passing for a bunch of yards and catching this pass. The other star of the drive was Bruce Ellington, who in addition to making this pass did this:
(Hint: This isn't the only time you'll see Bruce make an awesome catch against Wisconsin as part of this highlights series.) Bruce's reception was followed by his TD toss to Shaw.
The main reason this play isn't higher on the list is that while it's an incredible highlight-reel play, it came early in the game and on first down and thus lacks the crunch time factor.
That said, it was a really exciting play to watch and a classic example of Spurrier trickeration. It had been speculated for a few weeks that Spurrier might draw up an opportunity for his former-wideout signal caller to catch a touchdown pass. For one thing, Spurrier is known for pulling out a few crowd pleasers in bowl games, and moreover, Shaw had been targeted against Clemson while lined up as a wideout in the wildcat formation.
Given the speculation, as soon as it became apparent this was going to be a trick play, I knew it would be an attempted pass to Shaw. What also set me off was that in terms of design, the play reminded me of this classic Spurrier trick play, which the HBC used to put away Kentucky in 2006:
The difference between the two plays reflects Spurrier's changed offensive philosophy. The play against Kentucky begins in a traditional single-back set with the QB (here Syvelle Newton) under center. The play begins as a toss sweep to the tailback (Cory Boyd). Against Wisconsin, the plays comes out of the shotgun and begins with the QB handing off to the sweeping slot receiver (Pharoh Cooper) as part of a jet sweep/inside zone look.
Despite this difference in base offensive philosophy, though, the plays are otherwise more or less identical. With the play apparently going to the left side of the field, the defense moves with it. After staying in the backfield a moment to sell the fake, the QB runs to the right side on a wheel route. The apparent runner tosses the ball to a receiver (Kenny McKinley against Kentucky) who has reversed course after seemingly being ready to block for the runner. Now with the ball, the receiver makes himself room to throw and launches the ball for a touchdown to the quarterback.
In both cases, it's a receiver with significant experience as a quarterback throwing to a quarterback with significant experience as a receiver. The personnel similarities make you wonder if the Badgers were aware of this the play against Kentucky and had considered the possibility that Spurrier might try something like this.
In any event, it was a memorable play, part of a fitting ending to the career of a great Carolina quarterback. It also played a key role in a bowl victory that put the finishing touches on Carolina's highest-ever finish in the polls. All in all, a fantastic play.