This is the sixth edition of our offseason feature in which we’re counting down the top ten plays of the 2016 USF football season. Check out previous editions below:
This play doesn’t need much introduction. The Bulls were 3-0 and harboring hopes of a New Year’s Day bowl; the Seminoles were walking wounded after getting absolutely trounced by Louisville. USF hosted FSU in front of a packed, bloodthirsty Raymond James Stadium. It was the perfect storm, and to open the game, Willie Taggart called the perfect play.
Let’s break it down:
USF lines up in a pretty basic four-wide set with Flowers and Mack in the backfield. FSU has crept seven guys in the box and is probably thinking run here, but they only wind up rushing four. Watch the linebackers as this play develops; they’re going to get absolutely stranded.
On the left, Elkanah Dillon lines up in front of Ryeshene Bronson, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling lines up in front of Rodney Adams. USF loves to run screens out of this package to the receivers a few yards behind the line of scrimmage, and the Noles are aware of this— the two defensive backs closest to the line are tasked with covering the potential recipients.
Here, the play begins and USF fakes screens with both Adams and Bronson. No one on FSU is really biting here, but Flowers and company do just enough (watch Q give a half-hearted pump fake as Adams turns around) that the Noles defenders are flat-footed and leaning downhill, which leaves them entirely vulnerable to what’s to come.
What’s that, you might ask?
USF IS OUT HERE RUNNING FOUR VERTS ON THE FIRST PLAY OF THEIR MOST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE SEASON.
This is Four Verts, a.k.a. Mike Leach-Air Raid-Four Verts a.k.a. The Play Your Friend Runs Every Single Time in Madden, a.k.a. one of the most enjoyable plays in the entire playbook. Each of USF’s receivers is going to run a full-on nine route*, while Mack will try to sneak into any available space underneath the zone as a safety valve.
*”Full-on nine route” is slightly misleading, as Valdes-Scantling will run a deep post over the seam to get on the inside of the free safety, and theoretically, on a Four Verts play, each outside receiver has the option to cut back against man coverage for a back-shoulder fade route. But that certainly didn’t seem to be on Adams’ mind here.
FSU isn’t really running a bad defense to contest this. They’ve got man-to-man coverage on three receivers, and what looks like a free safety playing a Cover 1-type zone who picks up Valdes-Scantling. In theory, this defense should not let receivers run past the DBs, and when you’re Florida State, you trust your defensive backs to not get burnt in man coverage by USF receivers. You’d think the Noles would have learned from 2009 by now, but alas.
The most remarkable part of this play isn’t that Adams was able to beat his man, it’s that almost every single USF receiver on this play was able to beat their man. Valdes-Scantling has successfully gotten between FSU’s deep safety and the line of scrimmage, Dillon caught his defender creeping towards the backfield and has a step on him, and Adams, of course, just burns his defensive back down the sideline.
Equally impressive is the fact that Adams isn’t even open when Flowers goes to throw the ball. Check out the picture above— Q is already cocked back to throw to Rodney, who’s yet to pass the FSU corner around the 22-yard line. By the time Adams catches the ball, he’s at the 45-yard line and already has a couple of steps on his man. At no point during this play does Flowers take his eyes off Adams; he knew where he was going the whole way. USF was going to live by the deep ball from Flowers to Adams or die by it. Here they lived... though FSU, unfortunately, wound up adjusting quite well.
Why was this play the best?
It physically pains me to watch this play, because it’s a reminder of how close USF was to something absolutely incredible. It’s not just that beating Florida State would’ve been huge for the season, it’s that this is the closest we’ve come in a long, long time to feeling that the USF football program of yesteryear was back again. I’m not talking about wins and losses here; I’m talking about the passion behind the program, the fan support, the fact that USF was, for a season, the main attraction in Tampa. We lost that feeling for a while and I feared we’d never get it back, what with Skip Holtz and falling out of the Big East and dwindling attendance numbers. It felt right there on the tips of our fingertips. I hadn’t heard Raymond James Stadium that loud in years.
Of course, Dalvin Cook scores a touchdown on the next play, USF goes on to lose by 20, the next pair of home games draw rotten crowds again, and the first play from scrimmage against FSU starts to feel a bit like a fever dream. But it happened; it was a real, tangible moment, and all of the Florida State touchdown drives in the world can’t take it away from us. I thought the Sleeping Giant of USF’s old Big East days had permanently gone under, but Quinton Flowers and Rodney Adams hit him with a defibrillator, zapping him to life for one, beautiful moment. He’s still in a coma now, but at least we know it’s possible for him to wake up.
Plus: the cajones on Willie Taggart to call Four Verts on the first play from scrimmage against FSU. Never say a bad word about Willie Taggart in my presence.
Why was this play not the best?
I mean, 55-35. But it could’ve been.