January 3, 2007

Major League Marbles

There's a memorable exchange in the otherwise forgettable movie "Major League II" where imported outfielder Tanaka, frustrated with his teammate's lack of passion, tells Pedro Cerrano that "You have no... you have no... marbles. You have no marbles."

One had to wonder if Tanaka had gotten onto one of the Boise State coaching staff's headsets with a similar message in the final minutes of Monday's wild 43-42 overtime thriller over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

Up until the final minute of play, head coach Chris Petersen had played it pretty straight. No reverses, no flea-flickers, no hair-brained formations.
And, up until the last 90 seconds of play, it looked like it was going to work.
Boise State was clinging to a 28-20 lead with less than two minutes to play when the Sooners scored a touchdown and converted a 2-point conversion to tie the game at 28. Just seconds later, BSU quarterback Jared Zabransky was picked off by Marcus Walker. The ensuing return found paydirt and the Broncos were down 35-28 with barely a minute left until the clock struck midnight for the proverbial Cindarella.

That would be about the time that Tanaka found his way onto BSU headset airspace and told the coaches to find some marbles.

Three do-or-die plays, three trick plays, and three scoring plays later, BSU had pulled off the improbable upset over the Sooners.

The first foray into Huevo-land came on a 4th-and-18 play with 30 seconds left in regulation. From midfield, Zabransky threw a deep crossing route to Drisan James. With the first down in sight, James retreated as he crossed the middle. As the entire Sooner defense headed toward the middle with him, James flipped to fellow senior Jerard Rabb, who won a footrace down the sideline to the end zone, hitting paydirt and tying the game with just seven seconds left in the game.

Probably not the biggest surprise that Petersen went to the bag of tricks in that situation. The fact the play worked to such perfection was.
After Adrian Peterson scored in overtime to give Oklahoma a 42-35 lead, Petersen again reached deep into the playbook with BSU's season and national reputation hanging in the balance. On 4th-and-2 from inside the Sooner 5-yard-line, Petersen put the ball in the hands of backup running back Vinny Perretta. A formation Bronco fans had seen before, Zabransky left the backfield in motion. The Broncos had run this set before but Perretta had run the ball. This time, Perretta-- who had barely been seen before the overtime-- lobbed a perfect pass into the awaiting hands of Derek Schouman for a touchdown to tie the game at 42.

If that pass falls incomplete, Petersen is crucified in the national spotlight for not putting the ball in Zabransky or Ian Johnson's hands with the game on the line. Crucified for blowing an 18-point 2nd half lead against the Sooners. Crucified for, once again, seeing the Broncos come up short in their bid to land a knockout punch on one of college football's big boys.

Major marbles.

But the first-year head coach saved his best for last. Perhaps sensing that his overachieving defense, which had played splendidly all night until the closing minutes of the game, was out of gas, Petersen decided to go for a 2-point conversion.

Win or lose on one play.

But not just any play.

Earlier in the game, Oklahoma had converted a 2-point play to tie it at 28 on a simple pass over the middle. But Petersen had no intention of being that ordinary in the play that would end the game that ESPN was calling perhaps the most exciting BCS finish ever.

A modified "Statue of Liberty" play, where Zabransky faked a pass one way and then snuck a misdirection handoff to Johnson going the other way.

With nothing but green in front of him, Johnson sprinted Boise State's football program into the history books. A huge upset on one of college football's biggest stages. Boise State, massive underdogs in the court of public opinion, had just used three trick plays in a span of about ten offensive snaps to shock Oklahoma and the college football world.

And though no one saw Tanaka anywhere in the ensuing bedlam in Glendale, you have to wonder where Petersen found the guts and confidence to let his team shock the nation.



 

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