As the start of the 2012 season nears, GamecockCentral.com's David Cloninger takes a look back at the top plays of 2011, South Carolina's finest year. The No. 1 play from last year will be revealed on Aug. 30, USC's season-opener.
NO. 5: Hail Alshon
The game: No. 21 Nebraska vs. No. 10 South Carolina (in Orlando, Fla.), Jan. 1
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The scene: Nebraska 13, South Carolina 9, 0:07, second quarter
The cast: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, quarterback Connor Shaw, tight end Buster Anderson, Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska safety Daimion Stafford
The setup: The Gamecocks had jabbed back from the first Nebraska score with a Stephon Gilmore PAT return and a Shaw rushing touchdown, but the Cornhuskers had driven for a touchdown to re-take the lead. Two straight turnovers, though, had given the Gamecocks more chances, and after a missed field goal begat the second takeaway (a Gilmore interception), USC had a first down at its 29-yard-line with 38 seconds remaining in the half.
Shaw ran for 11, and found Jeffery for 9, then called timeout with seven ticks to go. At the Nebraska 49, the Gamecocks were far out of field-goal range, and the Huskers were going to get the ball first in the second half. Options were limited.
Steve Spurrier pulled the play that every coach has on standby out of the book - the Hail Mary. Shaw knew that while the play hardly ever works, it has occasionally worked.
And he also knew that if it was going to work this time, he had the guy to help it along on his side.
The play: Jeffery and Anderson lined up right and were told to get to at least the 5-yard-line, and try to make something happen. Ace Sanders, on the left, was the primary if he was somehow uncovered.
The receivers bolted toward their assigned positions as Shaw rolled right, slipped, re-established his footing, pump-faked and finally threw, a long arching spiral that nearly hit the end-zone paint on the fly.
Sanders, taking Nebraska's Ciante Evans with him in the coverage, saw the pass going right and drifted that way. The ball began its descent as a crowd clustered between the 5-yard-line and the goal line.
Jeffery and Anderson were side by side, with Dennard behind each of them and Jean-Baptiste in front. Stafford was behind Anderson, screened from the ball. All leaped at the same moment.
The 6-foot-4 Jeffery out-jumped everyone, including Anderson, as their hands futilely grabbed for it, and the ball hit his mitts as if it never had a chance of going anywhere else, like it was designed to be that perfectly placed. Jeffery came down with it on the 3 and immediately turned to face the end zone; Dennard, by the time he figured out that yes, Jeffery had caught it, was too late to react.
Jeffery dove across the goal line as the stunned crowd reacted. Nebraska's fans shockingly stared at the play that never works suddenly working, while USC fans embraced the knowledge that one of the best receivers in the country wore a Gamecock uniform.
Wow-shon, one more time.
The aftermath: The Huskers never recovered, going scoreless in the second half as USC rode the advantage to a comfortable 30-13 win. Jeffery didn't get the chance to add more highlights to his extensive reel, as he was thrown out of the game in the third quarter for fighting with Dennard.
The accusation seemed a bit extreme, but the final catch of Jeffery's magnificent career was as well. He was leaving, and made sure to leave with one more jaw-dropping catch in three seasons full of them.
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