The rematch of the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship between Alabama and Clemson did not disappoint. This time the Tigers bested the Crimson Tide 35-31.
The game was rife with NFL-level talent making plays on both sides of the ball. The play most will remember is when Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson connected with wide receiver Hunter Renfrow for a one-yard touchdown pass with one second to play in the game. The touchdown and extra point gave the Tigers a 35-31 lead.
The only thing standing between the Tigers and their first national title since 1981 was the ensuing kickoff following their touchdown. That put the onus on kicker Greg Huegel to make a play, and he did just that. Instead of pooch-kicking it or squibbing it, Huegel did an onside kick.
This play is super risky in this scenario. Alabama could recover on the run and return it for a touchdown. The Crimson Tide, in a more likely scenario, could recover and have a short field for a last-ditch heave to the end zone.
The play required expert kicking, and Clemson got it. The kick seemed inauspicious at first. Huegel rolled the kick along the ground and the Tigers recovered. A further review of the kick and recovery, however, shows that Huegel made the play of the night.
Here's video of the play:
Now let's break this down.
The Set Up
Since Alabama's heads are collectively spinning thanks to Deshaun Watson, they forget the beast lingering in the number 92 jersey waiting to put the final nail in the Tide's coffin. An onside kick is the last thing they're expecting.
Huegel looks like he's just going to squib kick it like an average, human kicker that does average, human things with the national championship on the line.
So Huegel will kick it away and take his cha- OOOOOOOPS. SORRY ABOUT THIS ONSIDE KICK, ALABAMA, BUT THIS "L" YOU'RE ABOUT TO TAKE IS A GREG HUEGEL PRODUCTION.
There were several key components to the Tigers landing on this onside kick. The first of which is that through this entire sequence, the Alabama kick return unit seems entirely disinterested in grabbing the football. Moving toward the football is paramount to recovering it, FYI. More like Alabama Crimson Tired.
Perhaps the Tide players didn't think the kick was going to go 10 yards. It needed to reach the 45 before Clemson could legally recover it. On the first bounce, with Huegel watching like a hawk, it looked like it might not get there.
Look at him running stride for stride with his brilliant kick. This is like the Migos rolling up to one of their concerts listening to the YRN mixtape. Stunt, young man.
The recovery started when Huegel planted his feet just beyond the 45 yard line. Huegel took the opportunity to pounce.
In all seriousness, Huegel knew EXACTLY how far this ball needed to go before he could jump on it. That is exceptional spacial awareness and football IQ, not to mention he's boxing out the entire front line of this kick return unit by himself.
(NOTE: The Alabama return team has barely moved. Follow No. 25 this entire sequence. He moves laterally about two-feet. Not a championship play, IMO).
Look at Huegel sacrificing his body. There's No. 16 bearing down on him ready to deliver a blow and the kicker couldn't care less. He wants the Natty and he knows he has to hold onto this football to put the finishing touches on a brilliant game.
When people look back on this game, they'll remember the three touchdowns in the final six minutes, including the game-winner from Watson to Renfrow. They'll remember Reuben Foster colliding with Watson and making him spin around twice in the air. They'll remember Watson crying on the sidelines.
I'll remember Greg Huegel's onside kick. This play probably won't even make it to the ESPN Classic reruns when it inevitably airs there. But between the perfect kick and the tremendous recovery, it was the single most impressive play of the night, and it was made by the most inauspicious guy on the field– and that's awesome.
Experiment 626. Coffee drinker and cat enthusiast. Pro-avocado. Anti-sac bunt. Habitual bat flipper. Alex Smith apologist. Yoenis Cespedes fanboy.