Donovan Smith’s 27-yard run to start the final possession of regulation
After Houston took the lead with just 0:37 to play, Tech could not afford to have any negative plays if the game was to be salvaged. What’s more, the Red Raiders needed to pick up yards in chunks. That’s what it got on the first play of regulation’s final drive and that proved to be a huge moment in this game.
After a touchback on the kickoff, Tech had to start on its own 25 needing to get to around the Houston 30 for a reasonable field goal attempt. That’s 45 yards that needed to be covered in about 30 seconds.
In such situations, the first play of the drive is often the most critical as it sets the tone for the entire possession. And on Tech’s first play, Smith made a game-changing play.
Dropping back to pass, he escaped through the middle of the pocket and into the open field. He would then gallop down to the Houston 48 to pick up half of the yards his team would need in order to get into field goal range.
What’s interesting is that, on the play, he had Loic Fouonji running wide open about six yards down the field after coming all the way across the formation on a crossing route. Had Smith thrown the ball to Fouonji, the speedy Tech receiver might have taken the ball all the way to the endzone, he was that wide open.
However, the pocket was quickly collapsing on Smith and by the time he saw Fouonji, he was already in a full sprint towards the line of scrimmage. At that point, the wise decision was for Smith to use his legs to gobble up yards instead of trying to make a throw on the dead run.
On the next play, a tipped pass was almost picked off as Smith had his arm hit while trying to throw the ball away. However, passes of 11 and 10 yards on the two ensuing plays would set up the game-tying field goal. But that entire drive would have been almost impossible to pull off had it not gotten off to such a great start thanks to Smith’s ability to make plays with his legs.