How likely was the Tajh Boyd-to-Nuk-Hopkins fourth-and-16 connection?
Football Study Hall recently did a breakdown of fourth down conversion attempts in college football last season, which only made up 322 of over 16,000 plays.
Just 27 teams attempted the fourth-down pass down by a touchdown or less.
Only 12 of the passes were of 15-plus yards.
And just four were completed – one, Clemson’s, out of the Pistol formation.
Down 24-22, the Tigers started the would-be game-winning drive at their own 20 – Boyd targeted his top receiver twice for incompletions and then LSU’s Sam Montgomery brought him down for a six-yard sack on third down.
Hopkins had hauled in eight catches for 146 yards with two touchdowns already – he, LSU and most of the 68,027 on hand at the Georgia Dome had a feeling the Daniel product had another one coming his way.
“I knew I had it,” said Hopkins. “I knew Tajh was either going to come to me or Brandon Ford. I looked at the film and Adam Humphries was running down the field wide-open so I was like, ‘Dang, he was really coming (my) way from the get-go.’
“I knew I had to make a play.”
And it didn’t go to plan either.
“(LSU safety) Eric Reid was in the middle of the field,” Hopkins said, “and it was a crossing route between me and Brandon Ford to kinda isolate the safety and the corner. I was supposed to break-in actually, but Eric Reid played the play great so I kinda made an adjustment to go around and Tajh threw it off his back foot.”
But first, Boyd had to have time – Bayou Bengals linebacker Lamin Barrow blew past Tigers right guard Tyler Shatley on a blitz, but Rod McDowell, who lined-up behind Boyd in the Pistol, chipped Barrow to give his QB just enough time to throw.
“I was hoping he didn’t throw it flat,” Hopkins continued, “because I adjusted my route to go upfield and he put the ball in the air and I saw a glimpse of it. I didn’t the see the ball all the way through because Eric was on top of me.
“I was just kinda hoping and timed my slide and it fell right in there. Couldn’t ask for a more perfect ball.”
The rest is history, as he went on to catch two more passes for 20 yards and draw a crucial pass interference call, before a Humphries’ reception set the Tigers up inside the red zone for Chandler Catanzaro’s 37-yard game-winner.
In Football Study Hall’s research, four predictable factors were involved in fourth-down passes in 2012 – two trends of which Clemson bucked though.
Teams were mostly trailing, time and field position played a major part, completion percentages were lower than average and the majority operated out of the shotgun.
76 percent of fourth down passes came out of the shotgun, while Clemson’s formation of choice (Pistol) accounted for 11 of 151 (7.3 percent).
Just 49.7 percent of all passes on fourth down were completed – 33.3 percent of 15-plus yard attempts – and only 43.7 percent resulted in conversions.