The One Play that Worked (Until Earl Thomas Almost Broke It)

Manuel Johnson was a four-star recruit exiting high school. He played quarterback and wide receiver but was strictly a wide receiver prospect at the next level. Back then, scouting reports spoke of his speed, agility and ability to play the slot. He did. He played four seasons for Oklahoma, improving his production each season. Spring of 2007, Johnson ran a 4.49 forty. That is the closest I can find to a true measure of his straight line speed. He injured his hamstring at the 2008 Senior Bowl and did not participate at the NFL Combine or Oklahoma's pro day. Dallas drafted him in the seventh round and though he is a fringe player on a wide receiver glutted team, he has stuck. Johnson is currently signed to a futures contract but will likely be looking for a new team this fall.

Oklahoma took its first possession of the second half and drove 51 yards to score and pull ahead of Texas 28-20. 44 yards and the touchdown came by way of Johnson and one play, run twice. It was nearly undone by Earl Thomas.

1. 1st and 10 at OKLA 49 DeMarco Murray rush for 2 yards to the Texas 49.

Thomas plays most of this drive ten deep, at or very close to the right hash mark. Bradford aligns under center and -SURPRISE- it's a run. Murray rushes for two behind left guard. Thomas does not factor.

2. 2nd and 8 at TEX 49 Sam Bradford pass complete to Jermaine Gresham for 4 yards to the Texas 45.

Ditto on Thomas. Bradford rolls left and finds Gresham on a speed out towards the left sideline. DNF.

3. 3rd and 4 at TEX 45 Sam Bradford pass complete to Manuel Johnson for 30 yards, fumbled, recovered by Okla at the Texas 14 for a 1ST down.

Ditto on Thomas. Oklahoma runs a jailbreak screen (I mis-identified this as a "tunnel screen" in a previous post). Johnson slants towards the left flat then cuts hard in and behind the pulling left guard and center. Thomas is totally out of position to make this play. Not by mistake, but by design: Both the Longhorns and presumably the Sooners.

Johnson cuts up field, wends between tacklers and blockers then cuts left seeking daylight up the left sideline. Somewhere, distant, Thomas is entering the frame. He runs a serpentine but precise path that bubbles up towards the goal line to contain then straightens into a parallel horizontal as he nears Johnson. Johnson nears the left flat. His up field path is uncontested to the end zone. Thomas surges. He closes on Johnson and then, remarkably, doesn't lower his shoulder or attempt devastation, but slows, shadows and reaches, stripping the football from Johnson and forcing a fumble that rolls rolls tumbles bucks rolls tantalizingly, slowly, finally out of bounds.

4. 1st and 10 at TEX 14 Sam Bradford pass incomplete.

Ditto on Thomas: Right hash mark, ten deep. Bradford rolls and passes incomplete towards Murray running towards the left flat.

5. 2nd and 10 at TEX 14 Sam Bradford pass incomplete.

Route confusion, presumably. Thomas joins Ryan Palmer and, I believe, Roddrick Muckelroy in triple coverage of Jermaine Gresham. Bradford, never one to stray too far from the play call, targets him anyway, but the pass is wide right. Gresham runs a curl but Bradford targets him on an out. The errant pass undoes the bad decision. Sort of.

6. 3rd and 10 at TEX 14 Sam Bradford pass complete to Manuel Johnson for 14 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.

Pre-snap frenzy: Texas and Will Muschamp think they see something and audible into a 3-3 and blitz six. Oklahoma runs yet another jailbreak screen for the score. Thomas is four deep over Gresham. The cover looks solid, but Gresham hardly runs a route. He's a decoy.

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