Commentary: Anatomy of a Play - Heater
by Jonathan Hodges
The 2010 Outback Bowl came down to one play: a fake field goal attempt by
Northwestern from the five yard line on fourth and goal in overtime after Auburn
scored a field goal to lead 38-35 after their possession.
wrinkle was that starting kicker Stefan Demos, who had missed three field goals
and had an extra point blocked on the day, was injured following his last
attempt (a 37 yarder that bounced off of the right upright) during that same
Northwestern overtime possession (a penalty was called on Auburn that kept the
Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald was faced with a
tough decision with a few options. He could send out backup kicker Steve
Flaherty to try a game-tying 23 yard field goal, with knowledge that Flaherty
has only one kick in his collegiate career, a successful extra point attempt
against Towson earlier this season. He could send the offense back out to go
for the win (after it gained just four yards after having first-and-goal at the
nine). Or, he could call up a fake field goal to try and fool Auburn and take
advantage of the situation.
He chose the final option, which in the
postgame press conference Fitz said took him "a nanosecond" to
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Auburn Head Coach Gene Chizik knew
something was up when Northwestern sent in some different personnel on the field
goal unit (backup QB Dan Persa, in particular), and kept his regular defense on
the field and called for them to focus on the fake.
up the play called "Heater," which was known as "Fastball" under Coach Randy
Walker. It is a play that relies on deception and worked successfully for the
Wildcats against Wisconsin in 2003 for a first down and Illinois in 2005 for a
touchdown (both NU victories).
First, one of the blocking ends, in this
case Mark Woodsum, goes into motion around behind the formation. Most everyone
else, including most linemen, stay in a semi-standing position but hold just
long enough to allow the snap (the snapper is in a down position). The snapped
ball is taken under center by a player in the backfield, in this case backup QB
Persa, then immediately handed to another backfield player to his left, under
his legs, in this case WR Zeke Markshausen.
The initial ballcarrier,
Persa, continues to his left along with the player already in motion (Woodsum)
as well as the kicker, in this case backup Flaherty. The intention is to obtain
the attention of the defense and draw them to the left side of the
In the meantime, the current ballcarrier, Markshausen, is
supposed to stay stationary behind the line for approximately two seconds before
bolting to his right, hopefully finding enough room to run for the touchdown.
Now, where did the play go wrong for the Wildcats?
First, the Auburn
defense was not fooled and did not follow the decoys to the left side of the
formation, leaving them in a position to make a play on Markshausen on the right
Second, Markshausen took off to his right almost immediately
instead of waiting the prescribed period for the defense to get confused and
giving his blockers a chance to get in position.
Finally, the Auburn CB
Neiko Thorpe went wide and shed Corey Wootton's block to seal off the outside
corner while his teammates flowed towards the play. That allowed him to force
Markshausen out of bounds as Zeke didn't have an opening to cut it back
First of all, few if any fans
and commentators can blame Fitz for going for the win on that play. He had a
backup placekicker in the game and even his regular placekicker wasn't his usual
self on the day, making the field goal try to tie a gamble in itself.
Northwestern had so many things go in its favor just to be in this position,
Fitz was wise to go with the flow and try for the win then and there.
questionable part, though, was his selection of play. Auburn knew that Demos
was injured and was wary of the personnel on the field and were definitely in a
position to defend the fake as a field goal would just tie the game and send it
into a second overtime. That made the fake a lot less effective.
make the right call by sending the players out there to snap and run the play as
quick as possible after calling it, which at the very least gave it a chance.
Both teams had a timeout remaining and a stoppage in play would have given the
defense time to prepare even more.
Also, one of NU's trick plays,
"Yankee," was used minutes earlier to score a two point conversion to tie the
game in regulation. NU was forced to do that thanks to a blocked extra point
earlier in the game.
NU could have put the offense back on the field for
one more play, which may seem wise against a regular defensive set, but they had
been rather ineffective in overtime, barely gaining one first down themselves
and getting another thanks to a penalty. On the three previous plays, NU had
gained just four yards on an incompletion and two Kafka scrambles.
clear that Fitz wanted to go for the win and made a gutsy call that put them
within two yards of Northwestern's first bowl victory in 61 years.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats came up just short and despite an entertaining and
unscriptable run up to that final play, couldn't come away with that elusive
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