Inside The Strike That Downed Texas
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Dana Holgorsen called it the best pass he’d ever seen.
Will Grier, the man who threw it, wouldn’t go quite that far, saying “it was a good one but I don’t rank them.”
Gary Jennings, who caught the 33-yard touchdown pass that drew West Virginia within one point of Texas with 16 seconds to play on Saturday, setting up Holgorsen’s daring decision to go for two points and thew in right there, saw nothing perfect of it except for the result.
And David Sills, the other wide receiver who already had caught two touchdowns from Grier on nearly perfect passes, said “that was up there with the best ones I’ve ever seen him throw.”
So what was it that made this such an amazing play?
Sills had an answer for that.
“Throwing off the back foot, where it came in the game, even the catch, getting one foot down, having control of it. The whole play, the whole sequence was something you just can’t coach. The talent, the ability just took over.
“It was one of those plays that will be remembered here for a long time and it should be. It was an amazing play.”
Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital put it this way:
“What makes that such a difficult throw is it’s a down-the-field throw where they matched pretty well with them, where you have to be accurate with it. With Will, he was scrambling and moving out to the right where he had to naturally shut his footwork down. It looks like he’s throwing off-balance, but what he’s really trying to do is that internal clock and that special awareness of how much space he has left in the red zone.
“He had to shut it down and get rid of it, based on the demeanor of how Gary was full speed and trying to take it over the top. If you look at it on tape, he releases the ball when Gary is about at the 20-yard line. It’s pretty impressive where he has to get that out quick and just put it to the one spot that there possibly was.”
And there were a couple of back stories to this touchdown that set up maybe a Big 12 championship for West Virginia, perhaps not as stunning as Major Harris’ run through the entire Penn State team with no blocking when he ran 22 yards for touchdown around right end when the play was supposed to go left.
Here then, is the anatomy of the touchdown.
It begins during the Thursday night game against Baylor nine days prior, a game in which Jennings got bounced around pretty good.
He did not practice during the week.
What was wrong?
“Banged up,” was all he admit to.
He wasn’t sure if he could play, but he spent the week following doctor’s orders, trying to get ready for the biggest game of the season. Considering that he was the team’s second leading receiver and had caught eight touchdown passes in first seven games, this was no small thing.
“It’s frustrating at first because I know I can contribute a lot but I’m a pretty level-headed person and know I have to stay ready,” he admitted.
He also was thankful for that Thursday night game not having been a Saturday, for he probably would have have been able to play at all with just week’s rest.
“It was amazing I was able to get out there and play at all” he said.
So now it’s fourth quarter, Texas up seven points, WVU with the ball on the 33 with the clock ticking.
Texas makes some substitutions. The official steps in to make sure they are ready, and stands there, and stands there.
“He was holding it and I thought everyone was lined up so I looked back at the white hat (referee) and was like ‘are we going to go? I looked back and had no idea how much time we had,” Grier said
The pressure of the moment you could say came from the moment of pressure.
Grier looked over the defense and called the play.
The key man was Jennings, to whom he had not thrown one pass in practice in nine days.
A surprising choice?
“I trust him,” Grier said. “It goes back to the off-season work he and I and a lot of the other guys put in. He wasn’t allowed to practice. He said he was ready to go. I watched him run around and I have all the confidence in the world in him.
“I know this. He was running pretty fast on that play.”
Grier slid around in the pocket, then released the ball as he spotted Jennings behind the safety.
“He got open, I had to get it out a little quicker than I planned.” Grier said. “Gary made a great a play.”
Jennings mind was cleared through the concentration he had on the ball. No thoughts of how open he was or of having to secure the football.
It was like one of those slow motion movies, sort of like the flight Robert Redford’s home run into the light standard in “The Natural.”
“The only thing I’m thinking of is catching the ball,” he said. “I knew I was running out of room but there was enough room to get a foot down.”
He secured the pass, ran through the end to the Texas fans in the back of the end zone.
“We exchanged pleasantries,” he joked.
WVU already had received an unsportsmanlike conduct foul and did not need another, not with a two-point conversion coming up. Such a penalty would have put them back at the 18 and they would have had to kick.
So receiver Marcus Simms grabbed him and hugged him, pulling him away shouting “I love you, I love you.”
And, as they say, the rest is history. WVU went for two points, Grier first completing a pass to David Sills that was ruled no play because Texas had just beat snap calling time out.
At that point Grier simply put the game into his owns, ran for the corner of the end zone, scored WVU and, as Jennings put it, “a party broke out on the sideline.”