A closer look at Jacksonville State's game-winning TD pass and how it beat Florida State
It’s a play the likes of which often gets nicknamed and replayed for years and years to come.
And Florida State will have to live with the infamy of Saturday night’s collapse on Jacksonville State’s 59-yard touchdown on fourth down as time expired.
The dramatic pass-and-catch clinched a 20-17 comeback win for the Gamecocks at Doak Campbell Stadium. JSU players raced from their sideline and dogpiled in the far corner of the north end zone as FSU players and fans watched in stunned disbelief.
In the immediate future, the play created a lot of second-guessing as to how the Seminoles chose to defend Zerrick Cooper’s game-winning heave to Damond Philyaw-Johnson.
“I just dropped back as far as I could, just gave him a chance and the rest is a miracle," Cooper told Jsugamecoksports.com. "It’s crazy. I saw him (catch) it but I didn’t know he scored until I saw crowd start cheering."
The way Philyaw-Johnson not only caught the pass near the FSU 20-yard line, but had the room to score prompted many to call into question whether the Seminoles should have lined up with more players deep to prevent the score.
Instead, Philyaw-Johnson not only caught the pass in stride down the sideline against cornerback corneback Jarvis Brownlee in one-on-one coverage, he then juked one defender on his way to the end zone.
“It was a two-deep, man under. Make sure, we tried to get pressure on the quarterback, but having coverage over the top,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said describing the defense that was called. “They still had one timeout, just to not give up something quickly underneath or intermediate passing game with the timeout. I did not go to immediate prevent, the receiver got behind us.”
FSU on wrong side of history
It was Philyaw-Johnson’s second catch of the year after catching one pass for one yard last week against UAB.
The play was the longest game-winning touchdown pass as time expired in an FBS game since Sept. 16, 2017 when Florida’s Feleipe Franks connected with Tyrie Cleveland on a 63-yard touchdown pass to seal a Gators’ win over Tennessee.
JSU's victory was the eighth by an FCS program over FBS this season, the most since FCS schools won nine in 2017.
“He beat his man, Zerrick made a perfect throw, he made a great cut down there and Ahmad (Edwards) made a big block and got him in the end zone,” Jacksonville State head coach John Grass said.
Philyaw-Johnson got enough of a step to haul in the pass as Brownlee did not nearly get a hand near it to deflect it. Philyaw-Johnson then hit the brakes as redshirt freshman Sidney Williams, who was playing deep safety in the middle overran him on the play.
Philyaw-Johnson smartly cut back inside and with no other safety help only had to beat Brownlee to the end zone the final 10 yards. Gamecocks receiver Ahmad Edwards made sure that didn’t happen with a textbook block which took out Brownlee inside the 5 to spring Philyaw-Johnson free to scamper into the end zone.
"Honestly, it was anybody make a play," Philyaw-Johnson said. "Coach just said, ‘We need a touchdown’ and at the end we just connected and made it happen. At first it was get to the pylon. Get to the first pylon. As both guys kind of went into my peripheral l (vision) and across my face, I had to make a decision to make a cut or try to outrun them.
"Which I made the cut to get into the end zone.”
Explained Grass: "You've got to play at a certain level execution-wise in these type games and we did that night. We missed a chance to score on the same play before. Daymond was open and we missed him and we decided to do it again.”
Norvell second guessed again
This was the second consecutive week Florida State coaching decisions caused a stir due to their impact on the outcome of the game.
Last week with FSU trailing 31-20 in the third quarter against Notre Dame, it went for it on 4th and 2 from its own 33. Norvell defended his decision, but the play resulted in an interception which led to an Irish touchdown and a 38-20 lead. FSU erased that deficit in the fourth quarter, but lost in overtime 41-38.
“We just have to focus on the play at hand. Play the calls that are called and execute. It’s all we can do,” said defensive end Jermaine Johnson. “I just know that we tried our best to execute things that were called and came up short.”
The Seminoles went with a four-man rush on the play with Johnson, Fabien Lovett, Dennis Briggs Jr. and Derrick McLendon.
None of the four really got close to putting any pressure on Cooper even though Briggs Jr. and McLendon ran a stunt to try and create an opening, both were picked up by Jacksonville State’s blockers.
Left guard Zack Cangelosi, in particular, made a nice adjustment and stopped McLendon cold in his tracks.
Johnson tried to get around the corner to no avail and Lovett had no time to get any real good push.
FSU's defensive alignment
Jacksonville State lined up three wide receivers to the right side. FSU countered with Brownlee, freshman Kevin Knowles II and Jammie Robinson playing well off the ball about eight to nine yards back.
Stephen Dix Jr. lined up about five yards behind the line in the middle with Jarrian Jones on the opposite side in more of a press look 1-on-1 with a fourth Jacksonville State receiver.
Jones began dropping back even before the play started but still close to the opposite sideline.
Brownlee stuck to Philyaw-Johnson, but as he raced downfield both Knowles and Robinson peeled off and fell behind the play.
By the time the catch was made, the only two that had any shot at making a stop were Brownlee and Williams.
Jones came racing in late, but was too far away to recover.
“We just didn't execute how we were supposed to,” Johnson said. “(It’s) embarrassing, but all we can do is watch the tape and see what we did wrong and fix it.”
Reach Andre Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @FernandezAndreC.
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