There's this little speech that Christopher Walken makes in the movie "Man on Fire." He's sitting with a police detective, discussing why Denzel Washington's character should be allowed to spree-kill an entire Mexican drug cartel. In his oh-so-imitable way, Walken declares, "A man... can be an artist..." *takes a bite of uh, something, possibly the scenery, licks his fingers* "At anything. Food. Whatever-"
Well, to paraphrase his final line, Dan Roushar's art is (was?) crazy-ass, one-off, play calls (good and bad), and he's about to paint a masterpiece.
Shoot, this play looks bad to me before the ball even gets snapped.
Two tight ends AND a fullback. Just one WR, at the top of the screen. Minnesota is in a 4-4 formation of sorts.
The first initial issue is situational awareness. There's a time and place for setting up in a mega-jumbo run formation like this and throwing a play-action pass. Some* would argue that time is not on 2nd and 8, and that place is not on the opposition's 22-yard line.
The second issue is that of personnel. First off, Le'Veon Bell had, two plays earlier, ripped off a huge 30-yard run and was taking a well-earned breather. The problem is, Nick Hill took a carry for just a two-yard gain the play right after that, leading to this situation, where Hill is still on the field at RB. As a play-action decoy last year, Bell>Hill. Also troublesome is the issue of the fullback in the game. It's not Lawrence Thomas, nor is it a shifted tight end. It's 5-11, 248-lb Trevon Pendleton.
Now why is that important? Well, the play call here is a play-action pass to... the fullback. Considering Pendleton had never received a carry or made a catch before, this play is banking purely, purely, on the surprise of it all. Who could expect a pass to Pendleton? But if anyone on the Minnesota defense pays attention at all, it gets messy really quickly. Observe.
This is right before the (fake) hand-off. Pass protection, as you would expect in this type of situation is excellent. The Minnesota linebackers however, are exhibiting warning signs that this play might be going wrong. See, they're reacting to the run a little, but not nearly as much as you sort of need them to for this play to work. No one is screaming towards the line of scrimmage, almost as if they're expecting a pass.
Ugh, this play-action. Maxwell, who really suffers in comparison to Cousins in this regard, turns to throw much too quickly. Hill doesn't even bother to finish the fake, pulling up two yards short of the line of scrimmage. Maxwell and Hill sell this play-action so badly that the linebackers diagnose the play's intentions and are already turned around in time to stay stride for stride with not-fast fullback Trevon Pendleton as he runs this go route.
Abandoning the time-tested and EDSBS approved #WheelRoute, Roushar espouses his philosophy of fullback freedom: you can't have your fullback constrained by the sidelines, you gotta give him room to run wild, man, get him out into the middle of the field where there's grass, and sun, and air, and if that means he runs full steam into triple coverage, well, *takes a long drag on a cigarette, exhales smoke into your face* that's life, amigo.
It would've been a better option for Maxwell to jump into a helicopter mid-play, travel across the globe, and hurl this ball into the mouth of an active volcano. It would have been a better option for Maxwell to pull out a table, cover it with a nice tablecloth and fine china, and then use a fork and knife to daintily eat this football, piece by piece.
As the coaches consider a change to a more mobile quarterback, and drill home to Maxwell and the others that they should take the easy yards with their feet when the situation presents, it's worth pointing out that- SWEET CRACKERS TUCK THE BALL AND RUN LOOK AT THAT HOLE THE RIGHT SIDE OF YOUR LINE HAS OPENED UP.
Even a slower guy like Maxwell probably picks up at least five yards on a scramble here, setting up a say, 3rd and 3, that,is probably a better down and distance to try this exact play.
But nope, we're doing this thing. This is the thing we're doing, and it is gonna get done, one way or the other.
Pendleton is about 10 yards down-field (not very far), with his hips turned wide open looking back for the ball (not very comfortable as a receiver), smothered by one defender with at least one other close by (not very open).
It's worth noting that the receiver at the top of the screen is running a curl route. Why? I don't know.
***Digression about route combinations***
Two man play-action is a staple. Like, all pro-style teams have these situations were they max-protect and send out two wide receivers. The thing is, lots of times they will make up for the fact that they're using just two receivers by creating synergy between their routes. Something like a Smash Route (a hitch and a corner) which forces a choice on a specific defender, or a double posts to pressure the safeties to cover space in the middle of the field. This combination, on this play, a fullback go route straight up the middle and an inside curl on the outside is nonsensical. The curl does almost nothing to mess with the safety, so the CB is free to play it one-on-one. And the go route is well covered by the two safeties, with the corner backs having no need to bail out towards the middle of the field to cover just one player.
Juuuuust a bit overthrown.
Worth pointing out, for the historical record, that this is triple coverage, with two more defenders within range of our one down-field receiver. Who is a back-up fullback.
And it is promptly picked off at the goal line where, it is important to remember, Minnesota now has five guys to our one guy. This means potential exists for a big return, which, inevitably happens, until the Minnesota safety is brought down near the Minnesota 25, making this an oh-so embarrassing Red Zone(ish) interception that also loses MSU field position.
Found on the page here. The video clip you're looking for is titled "Brock Vereen picks off Andrew Maxwell near the goal line."
But if this play works, it gets praised as a genius deception, right? Isn't there a place for boom-or-bust plays like this, that are sometimes just crazy enough to work?
Yes! Absolutely. But that just sort of reiterates why this particular play, where it was called, was such a bad idea.
Consider a similar play called one game later against TCU (for video, go about halfway down this page past the 'Fourth Quarter' summary and watch the second video clip down)
In that case, the situation is third and 2 instead of 2nd and 8, the play adds a second wrinkle (Bell throwing the ball) and the play fake by Bell, and the rest of the team, is excellent. And it isn't just about the results of the play. Look I'd be lying if there wasn't some results-oriented bias (one was a big gain, the other an ugly interception), but there are some other things going on before the ball even leaves the passer's hands that are setting up that result (or non-result).
Furthermore, in the TCU game, the offense was struggling mightily, and so there's a need and a freedom to try a crazy gamble. After all, what's the worst thing that can happen when you're already being stonewalled on your "normal" plays?
By contrast, on this drive in the Minnesota game, before this play, MSU had averaged 6 plays for 66 yards, or 11 yards per play. There was just no need to "trick" a Minnesota defense MSU was already chopping up conventionally.
This, combined with the clunky construction of the play and bad execution, led to a truly awful play. I hope when Roushar turned in his playbook at the end of the year before he left for his job with the Saints, Dave Warner tore this play out and trash-canned it.
Then again, maybe the next time, they'll never see it coming... Nope. Still the worst.
***Feel free to leave your submission for 'maybe the 2nd worst play ever' in our comment section!***