This post continues our series counting down Carolina's biggest plays from 2013. Today, we're talking about Bruce Ellington's tip-and-catch to convert on fourth-down against Wisconsin.
This play came as part of a career day for Ellington, who caught six passes for 140 yards and two TDs. This particular catch arguably wasn't his most impressive of the day, with an earlier third-down catch in which Ellington displayed amazing body control also being a strong contender when considered in isolation.
What separates this later catch as such a huge play, though, is that it came on fourth down at such a critical moment in the game. The Capital One Bowl had been a hard-fought contest in the first half, with Wisconsin narrowly edging Carolina for a 14-13 lead heading into the locker room. After Wisconsin added a field goal to begin the second half, Carolina needed to put points on the board. It was unclear whether Carolina could figure out how to slow down Wisconsin's impressive running game. If Carolina had turned the ball over on downs on this play, it would have given Wisconsin not only good field position but also momentum, and it's easy to imagine the Badgers translating that momentum into a two-score lead. Carolina might not have been able to come back from that.
Enter Bruce Ellington. This play is mostly him. Bruce lines up in the slot and runs a corner route. Shaw correctly identifies Bruce as being open when Bruce gets position on the Wisconsin defensive back. However, Shaw doesn't deliver a good throw. What's needed here is a bullet to Bruce's back shoulder, which would have resulted in an easier, more routine completion. Shaw, though, sails the ball inside. This is the kind of errant throw that a bigger receiver like Alshon Jeffery might have made it look easy to catch by using his height and wingspan to go up and bring the ball down, but the smaller Bruce can't make the play that way. Instead, he tips the ball into the air and then displays incredible ball control to adjust and snag the tipped ball for the completion.
The Gamecocks would capitalize on Bruce's big catch a couple of plays later when Shaw and Bruce connected again for touchdown. With momentum on its side, Carolina would finally get the big defensive stop it needed on the following possession, when the Gamecocks stopped Wisconsin's vaunted rushing attack on both third- and fourth-and-one. The Gamecocks would largely control the game for the rest of the way, with the win vaulting Carolina to its first top-five finish in program history. Bruce's catch was the biggest play of that win, and that's what gets it the number two ranking on our countdown.
Stay tuned for the final installment in the series!