How ‘UConn’ changed the game for Clemson and daring Dabo

Two happy Tigers: Christian Willkins and Deshaun Watson. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Two happy Tigers: Christian Willkins and Deshaun Watson. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami Gardens, Fla. — The play that changed the Orange Bowl has a name: “UConn.” Not because Clemson’s Dabo Swinney stole it from the Huskies housed in Storrs, Conn., though that’s the kind of thing basketball coaches have done forever. Marquette’s Al McGuire called his delay offense “Creighton” because he borrowed it from the Bluejays. Louisville’s Denny Crum called the lob pass to a cutting guard “Marquette” because that team used to hoist alley-oops for the high-rising Doc Rivers. But I digress.

The fake punt was called “UConn” because the improbable receiver of the pass from punter Andy Teasdall is a 315-pound defensive tackle named Christian Wilkins, who hails from Suffield Academy in Connecticut. (He’s actually from Springfield, Mass. Guess “Massachusetts” is too long for a play-call.)

Swinney’s Tigers trailed Oklahoma 7-3 early in the second quarter and were on the verge of wasting Deshaun Watson’s 46-yard gain to midfield. It was fourth-and-4 at the Oklahoma 44. Swinney sent the punting unit on the field. No punt was forthcoming.

Teasdall took the snap and looked downfield. Wilkins, who’d aligned himself in the backfield as the middle of Teasdall’s personal blockers, slipped out in the left flat and kept chugging. When Teasdall hoisted his rainbow of a pass, Wilkins was already 20 yards downfield and, being 315 pounds in a bright orange jersey, wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. But the Sooners hadn’t covered him, and you could understand why. Who covers a defensive tackle 20 yards downfield?

Seeing the play develop in real time, these thoughts flashed through the mind: “That’s too long a throw for a punter … That’s too big a man to catch a ball like that … Oklahoma’s going to have a short field to make it 14-3.” And then: “Oh, my goodness!”

Wilkins caught the ball over his shoulder and, cool as you like, took a few more thudding steps down the sideline before momentum carried him out of bounds. The astonishing 31-yard conversion led in short order to Clemson’s first touchdown. By the time Teasdall actually punted again, his team led 30-17. The Tigers would win 37-17.

Here was Dabo afterward: “We shocked them, didn’t we? Ain’t nobody covering that big ol’ guy. Every Wednesday we’ve got an inventory of plays that we work on and put that in. We actually put it in last year, and it was to Josh Watson, and big Josh is no longer with us, so we kept it in the library. Once we kind of got our punt team settled in, I changed the name up, called it UConn because Christian Wilkins is from Connecticut.

“I told him, ‘Don’t be shocked now because we just practice them all the time and we don’t always call those things,’ but I just felt like it was the right time … Christian did a great job of getting small and skinny and kind of hiding for a 330-pounder. He’s an athletic dude, and Teasdall did an awesome job. He sold it perfectly, set it up just the way it needed to be. He just kind of put it up there just enough, and you saw the athleticism of that big ol’ No. 42 because he khad to find the ball in the air and get himself in position to finish it. It was a great play, and it was a spark we needed. I felt like we were a little stagnant right there, a little tight, and I wanted to send a message to the guys: ‘Listen, we’re here to play, and let’s cut it loose.’ ”

Daring plays like that were why we came to call Steve Spurrier the Evil Genius. Nobody has ever called Dabo, who became a target of Spurrier’s derision, a genius of any kind. But this was an ingenious call. It changed a game going wrong, a game on the sport’s biggest stage.

Further reading: Doubt this. Clemson overpowers Oklahoma.

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

8 comments
Peachs
Peachs

There are coaches that make a big production out of what they do, like Richt, but really don't have the ear for the game, do every thing by memory not really understanding what they were loading in their memory.  But a gym rat or a coach who has a real joy for being in the barn with the horses can feel the game, Bobby Dodd may have been the best, but Dabo is not far behind.  To me that is more genius than the storefront stuff that gets you over paid and under produced.  In Spurrier case he thinks like a golfer, the joy of golf is imagination, Spurrier really enjoyed the game, there are so few now days that even understand what I am saying, encouraged to be plastic to make good copy, which seldom ever wins the big game, too nervous to enjoy them, but keeps you under controlled and over paid. 

swimfin2
swimfin2

The play only worked because ok was not rushing the punter. Clearly the punter had two options. Throw if a receiver was open. Punt if he wasn't. If ok had done a hard rush, it would have never happened. Weird they didn't for a punt at midfield.

patriotdog
patriotdog

I'm a UGA guy, but I'll tell you the difference in that game and the upcoming game is this :

Nick Saban coaching vs Bob Stoops coaching. Dabo's team may be physical enough, may be quick and versatile enough to stand up to Bama's punishment on both sides of the ball, but I doubt it. And a Saban team isn't getting beaten by a 315 lb tackle on a fake punt.

The two styles should make for a good game........if Clemson can stand up to. the pounding.

The Alabama coach vs a coach that played at Alabama.....should be a good game.

E983
E983

Ole Miss pistol whipped OSU. Houston did the same to FSU. They'll play the game on the 11th and I've heard this all my life. That's why they play the game. More later.

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

ACC about to become NC again Bradley.

Don't you love it Bradley as you are an

ACC man

MaybeMaybeNot
MaybeMaybeNot

Does it really matter?  Alabama wins by at least 2 touchdowns.