For the individual play breakdown this week, could there really be any other candidate that the game-winner to Matt Caddell? So, here goes.
The situation is rather obvious, and needs very little explanation. We have the ball inside the Arkansas five, needing inches for a first down, but more importantly we need a touchdown. A first down helps, but even if we don't get the first down, we still have two plays, and we won't get more than one more play if we just get the first down on this play, so that's a wash.
Alabama comes in a bunch shotgun set. We have the ball on the far right hash, and Wilson (14) aligns about five yards behind center (59), with Glen Coffee to his right (38). The offensive line is about as usual, with the only exception being that they have very little spacing between the gaps, as they're almost touching each other. We come out with four wide receivers -- two to the left (81) and (11), and two to the right (22 and 80) -- but we don't spread the field at all. Again, this is a bunch formation, and even the outside receiver to the offensive left (81) is right in the middle of the field.
Arkansas responds with their base 4-3, but it's easy to see what they are likely to do here. As Bill Walsh often noted, deep in the red zone is about the only time that you know exactly what the opposing defense is going to do in terms of coverage. Long story short, you can almost bet the farm that it's man coverage. Arkansas shows just that here, again they come out in the base 4-3, but there is no doubt whatsoever that they are blitzing the front seven, while dropping four defensive backs into man coverage against our four receivers.
The following is a diagram of the pre-snap formations. As usual, click the picture for the full-size version.
So what is the pre-snap read? Given the narrow splits of the offensive linemen, combined with the four receivers and the lack of a timeout, you can almost bet the farm a pass is coming if you're the Arkansas defense. As for John Parker Wilson, it's as easy of a read as you'll get. They are going to blitz the daylights out of you, and pressure is coming. All told, we have six blockers (five linemen and Coffee), and they are rushing seven. You do the math. You have to read the receivers correctly and make a quick throw to the open man.
The following is a diagram of the play itself, and as always, click the diagram for the full-size version.
The ball is snapped, it's go time.
The offensive line blocks down, as expected, and Coffee steps up into the B-gap and delivers a fine block on one of the blitzing Arkansas linebackers. Andre Smith (71) blocks down, and essentially lets the Arkansas right defensive end charge straight into the backfield. Again, they have seven rushers, we have six blockers, and someone is coming free. Saban and co. chose to let the player farthest away from the ball and the player directly in Wilson's line of sight to be the one to rush free.
The twin sets of receivers run the exact same route combos on both sides of the formation. Both Caddell and Brown, and Hall and McCoy, run the exact same route combinations, with the inside receiver running the corner and the outside receiver running the out. The throw, though, is going to the left side of the field. Hall and McCoy are nothing more than decoys on this play. The limited field space restricts their routes greatly, and thus Wilson is supposed to look left first. Even if he wanted to throw back to the right, he'd be sacked before he could. Again, they're decoys, nothing more.
It's all about Wilson, Brown, and Caddell.
When the ball is snapped, Brown runs an out route, i.e. exactly what McCoy ran the play before when the potential game-winning touchdown pass slipped through his hands. On this route though, Brown doesn't quite run the out route to the depth that McCoy did the play before. Whereas McCoy got a couple of yards into the end zone, Brown doesn't even really get to the goal line. I think the play was designed all along to have the ball thrown to Caddell, and Brown's out route at a a more shallow depth just gives a bigger area to throw the ball to Caddell.
So here we go, Caddell gets a clean release and gets into the corner route, and the ball goes up in the air. Wilson didn't waste time, he knew a sack would be coming if he held onto the ball long, and that would end the game. He wisely throws up the ball before the Arkansas defensive end can reach him.
Caddell turns for the football, but it's underthrown. Instead of hitting him in stride on the corner route, it's underthrown, and now he has to go back for the football.
And here we get lucky as hell.
The Arkansas defensive back is no chump, he looks back for the football at the precise right time. But with the ball coming in his direction, he quickly turns his head back and starts following Caddell again. He looked back at the right time, and he looked right towards the football, but honestly it seems from his reaction that, though he was looking at it, he never actually saw the ball. Had he seen it, he could have pulled up for the interception, and then we would have just had to pray that Caddell could have broken it up and gone back to take our chances on fourth down.
But again, he looks away, and that slight mistake allows Caddell to continue coming back for the football unimpeded. Though Caddell is not particularly tall (5'11-ish), he is easily able to go up above the Arkansas defender and snag the ball. Right before he makes the catch, the Arkansas defender seems very surprised that the ball is suddenly upon him, and really is not in position to rip it out.