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West Virginia Football: Top Ten Plays Of 2015 Season - Number Five

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As we continue to countdown the top ten plays of the 2015 football season, we return to the desert for our number five play. This game could have been its own top ten but we were able to find another play that truly defined the season for the Mountaineers.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The play:

3rd and 22 at ASU 39 (2:30 - 4th) Wendell Smallwood run for 24 yds to the ArzSt 15 for a 1ST down

The setup:

In the first half, West Virginia seemed in control of the game. Despite a quirky sequence at the end of the half where Arizona State blocked an extra point attempt, returned it for a two-point conversion and somehow drove the field for a field goal at the end of the half, West Virginia went into the half up 22-18.

The second half of the bowl game was nothing short of a pin-ball matchup. Arizona State would score and West Virginia would answer right back. WVU would hold stiff and force a punt but then Arizona State would do the same. Back and forth both teams went, finding big play after big play. After three consecutive punts, Arizona State found paydirt on a 58-yard pass in which Gary Chambers outran Dravon Askew-Henry, who fell down in coverage.

West Virginia got the ball back and began marching down the field. Skyler Howard scrambled for a first down. A pass to Jordan Thompson netted 20 yards. Another pass to Daikel Shorts gained 13. Quickly West Virginia found itself in Arizona territory.

Howard dropped back to pass but was immediately pressured by the Sun Devils. In survival mode, Howard was able to throw the ball away and preserve the distance. The Sun Devils doubled down on their pressure and got to Howard as he was trying to throw, causing a fumble. In what can only be described as irony, Sun Devil defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood had the ball in his hands but couldn't control it. It fell to the ground and three Mountaineer linemen saved the day.

Now it would be the Mountaineer's Smallwood's chance to do something heroic. Staring at 3rd-and-22, Arizona State overloaded the left side of the line. The Mountaineers ran Wendell Smallwood in an off-tackle play to the right side. The Sun Devils secondary pursued the play very well and cut off the lane for Wendell but the vision of the Big 12's rushing champion showed on this play and he cut back inside before angling outside. His 4.4 speed allowed him to gain 24 yards on the longest carry of the night and gain a critical first down for the Mountaineers. Two plays later, Howard found David Sills for the game-winning touchdown.

Why it's a top ten play:

Where to begin. The Mountaineers are staring at 3rd-and-22. They converted on two previous third downs of over ten yards but 22 yards? That is impossible. And it is definitely impossible on an off tackle run, yet here was Wendell Smallwood giving West Virginia one more breath of life. One more heartbeat. One more chance. The conservative approach is to get half the necessary yards on these long third downs and hope that fourth down is manageable. Wendell didn't need a fourth down.

The most amazing part of this run is the vision by Smallwood. The play starts out looking like it should gain at least some good yardage because Arizona State stacked the opposite side of the line. But the secondary comes down in run support to cut off the angle for Smallwood. Wendell reacts by cutting back and finding a wide open space.

Without this run, the Mountaineers do not win. Without this run, David Sills does not get a chance to catch a game winning pass. This run specifically embodies every single skill that helped make Wendell the rushing champion. Vision to see the hole close and another one open; agility to cut back against the grain; speed to run past tacklers.

Video:

Previous Entries

2015 Top Ten Plays - Number Ten

2015 Top Ten Plays - Number Nine

2015 Top Ten Plays - Number Eight

2015 Top Ten Plays - Number Seven

2015 Top Ten Plays - Number Six