Trick plays a treat around Big Ten

Teams coun­ter­ing ‘3 yards, cloud of dust’ rep­u­ta­tion with more gad­get plays

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Eric Ol­son

A run of trick plays this sea­son is chal­leng­ing the Big Ten’s rep­u­ta­tion for stodgy foot­ball.

Kirk Fer­entz pulled the big­gest of them last week when Iowa suc­cess­fully ran a fake field goal against Min­nesota, with T.J. Hock­en­son catch­ing a sand­lot-style snap on the over­loaded right side and chug­ging 4 yards for a touch­down.

There was Michi­gan State scor­ing on a dou­ble re­v­erse and a Michi­gan re­ceiver throw­ing to a tight end. And there was Rut­gers’ failed at­tempt at chi­canery against Illi­nois when a back­ward pass to an of­fen­sive line­man sailed high and would have been a fum­ble if it hadn’t rolled out of bounds. Oh, well. Rut­gers threw an in­ter­cep­tion on the next play.

Past weeks have seen Illi­nois use a re­ceiver pass off a re­v­erse to take a brief lead against Penn State, Michi­gan State score against In­di­ana on an op­tion pitch to its kicker and Pur­due com­plete a long pass on a flea-flicker against Ne­braska.

It was the play Iowa calls “Herky” that had fans talk­ing.

Fer­entz joked af­ter the Hawkeyes’ 48-31 win that all his as­sis­tants wanted to run the fake field goal and that he was the lone dis­sent­ing voice un­til he re­lented.

“I was just try­ing to add to the stereo­type. I’ve kind of been type­cast I think over the last 19 years,” Fer­entz said this week.

Spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor LeVar Woods added “Herky” to the list of po­ten­tial plays against Min­nesota. The Hawkeyes led 14-7 and had fourth-and-goal at the 4 when Fer­entz green-lighted it.

“We felt like that was a per­fect spot for Michi­gan State kicker Matt Cogh­lin dives for a touch­down against In­di­ana’s A’Shon Rig­gins, scor­ing on a fake field goal play the Spar­tans call “Rocks.” it,” he said, not­ing his staff be­lieved the play was good for a max­i­mum of 5 to 7 yards.

Iowa over­loaded the right side with seven block­ers in what’s called as a “mud­dle.” Typ­i­cally, those play­ers would re­treat to their con­ven­tional spots be­fore the snap for a field-goal try. This time, they didn’t. Long snap­per Jackson Sub­bert, on the left hash, sent a left-handed snap side­ways to Hock­en­son, who was just in­side the right hash. Hock­en­son ran right and beat the Go­phers to the py­lon.

Sub­bert said he re­hearsed the play in the locker room be­fore the game and mis­fired on some of his snaps.

“Prob­a­bly lucky I wasn’t in the locker room when they were do­ing that,” Fer­entz said. “Some of the guys com­mented af­ter the game, ‘If you had seen that, you might not have gone on with it.’ Most im­por­tant, it looked good in prac­tice. It’s some­thing we’ve had in our pocket for a while.”

Go­phers coach P.J. Fleck said he didn’t call time­out be­cause he was con­fi­dent in his de­fend­ers, who had been prepped for that sit­u­a­tion in prac­tice.

“We didn’t set the edge well enough and next thing you know they scored,” Fleck said. “Mud­dles are some­thing a lot of teams do in terms of how they line up and then go back to the field goal. Rarely do you see it from the field goal to the mud­dle. If you do, usu­ally then it’s a fake. From the 4 yard line, it’s a great call. They ex­e­cuted it bet­ter than we de­fended it.”

Michi­gan State coach Mark Dan­to­nio has long had a pen­chant for trick­ery, his most fa­mous call be­ing the “Lit­tle Giants” fake field goal that beat Notre Dame in dou­ble over­time in 2010. This year quar­ter­back Brian Lew­erke, who also serves as holder, took off run­ning on a fake field goal play called “Rocks” and pitched to kicker Matt Cogh­lin to fin­ish a 6-yard touch­down in a 35-21 win over In­di­ana.

Last Satur­day, MSU re­ceiver Felton Davis took the ball on a dou­ble re­v­erse, cut in­side and ran 48 yards for a touch­down that pulled the Spar­tans to 14-12 in a 29-19 loss to North­west­ern.

“You’ve got to catch peo­ple off guard,” Dan­to­nio said. “So you re­ally don’t want to tell peo­ple when you’re go­ing to do those things, re­ally. Some­times it’s af­ter a big play and some­times it’s not. Some­times it’s in the mid­dle of a se­ries. Some­times it’s not. I think it’s sort of just rolling the dice a lit­tle bit.”

Some­one who loves trick plays as much or more than Dan­to­nio is Pur­due coach Jeff Brohm, who vowed be­fore the sea­son to run at least 50 of them this sea­son.

“You want to make sure you have enough,” Brohm said. “You want to make sure you don’t do too much. But it is im­por­tant you give your­self a chance to win, and we def­i­nitely want to err on the side of be­ing creative.”


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