Many great seasons have hinged on a go-for-broke play call
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen’s decision to go for two against Texas paid off in full. After the Longhorns overcommitted on their coverage of wide receiver David Sills V, quarterback Will Grier took it himself and ran into the end zone.
The move vaulted the Mountaineers up five spots to seventh in the AP Top 25 and has put them back in the hunt for the Big 12 title and the College Football Playoff. They have to win the rest of their games, but they control their own destiny.
This would not be the case if Holgorsen had gambled and lost. The outcome of West Virginia’s season will ultimately determine if his go-for-broke decision is remembered five years from now. If it is, it will join these five gutsy calls.
5. The Mad Hatter Strikes
Oct. 20, 2007 (Baton Rouge, La.)
Having lost to Kentucky in triple overtime the week before, LSU was down 23-17 to Auburn in the final seconds. However, they were on the Tigers’ 22-yard line so a field goal was feasible. Instead, LSU’s head coach Les Miles – aka the “Mad Hatter” – chose to take a shot at the end zone and Matt Flynn hit Demetrius Byrd with a touchdown pass as time seemed to expire. A review of the tape showed that LSU would have had three or four seconds to kick a field goal if the pass was incomplete, but the wild call only added to the Mad Hatter’s myth.
4. The Bush Push
Oct. 15, 2005 (South Bend, Ind.)
Defending national champion USC rode a 27-game winning streak into South Bend, but was down 31-28 to the upstart Irish. The Trojans were on Notre Dame’s one-yard line with seven seconds left, and head coach Pete Carroll signaled to quarterback Matt Leinart to spike the ball to kick a field goal, but in reality told him to go for the win. Leinart kept it and tried to run in but was met by gaggle of Notre Dame defenders. Running back Reggie Bush helped out and pushed Leinart over the goal line for the win. The play is forever known as the “Bush Push.”
3. An Onside Kick with 10 Minutes Left
Jan. 11, 2016 (Glendale, Ariz.)
The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship game was a good, old-fashioned shootout and looked as if the last team to have the ball would win. Alabama head coach Nick Saban realized that too and decided to gamble early for an edge. After tying the game with Clemson at 24 with 10:34 left, Saban called a surprise onside kick, which the Tide recovered. They scored a touchdown two plays later and went on to win 45-40.
2. The Statue of Liberty
Jan. 1, 2007 (Glendale, Ariz.)
Boise State blew a 28-10 lead over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, but made it into overtime thanks to hook and ladder play that scored a touchdown in the final seconds. On the first play in overtime, Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson ran 25 yards for a touchdown. Boise State scored on its possession, but had to use a wide receiver rollout trick play on fourth down to do it. Sensing that his team could not keep pace with the Sooners, Broncos head coach Chris Petersen opted to go for two and the win. He called “Statue Left” and quarterback Jared Zabransky faked a pass with his right hand and handed off with his left to Ian Johnson, who ran untouched into the end zone for the 43-32 win.
1. “You try to win the game”
Jan. 2, 1984 (Miami)
Not every gutsy call works out for the team that tries it. Undefeated Nebraska had steamrolled most of its regular seasons opponents, but found itself down 31-24 to Miami in the final minutes of the Orange Bowl. Facing 4th-and-8 on the Hurricane 24-yard line, quarterback Turner Gill took the snap and ran the option play and pitched the ball to Jeff Smith who ran into the end zone. If head coach Tom Osborne kicked the extra point, Nebraska would have been the only unbeaten team that season and would have certainly been crowned national champion. Instead, he went for two and Kenny Calhoun broke up Gill’s pass to Smith, giving The U its first national title. Osborne later said, “I don't think you go for a tie in that case. You try to win the game. We wanted an undefeated season and a clear-cut national championship."
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.