GLENDALE, Ariz. — Theatrics, as much as blocking and stiff-arming, allowed the Boise State football team to produce another memorable scoring play on the program’s signature Statue of Liberty handoff Wednesday in the Fiesta Bowl.
Junior tailback Jay Ajayi broke a tackle and shoved a defender into the grass on a 16-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Broncos’ 38-30 win against the Arizona Wildcats.
The play included a creative name, some decoy shouting from the quarterback and a little acting by Ajayi to throw the Wildcats off the scent of a concept they practiced against all week.
“It’s kind of fun to put your flavor on it within the play,” senior quarterback Grant Hedrick said. “The coaches give you a little freedom to do that. Jay did a great job selling it and had a heck of a run.”
The Broncos first used the Statue handoff, where the quarterback fakes a throw to the right with an empty hand and wraps the ball behind his back to the running back with his left, against Idaho in 2006. The play went viral when they used it for Ian Johnson’s game-winning two-point conversion against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
Ajayi scored a 20-yard touchdown on the handoff earlier this season against Wyoming.
“It was fun to have that play in this game,” said coach Bryan Harsin, who was the offensive coordinator when the Broncos invented the play’s unique ball-handling.
First-year offensive coordinator Mike Sanford created a new play design with no tight end on the left side and three receivers on the line of scrimmage to the right. True freshman tailback Jeremy McNichols lined up left of Hedrick and Ajayi stood to the right. McNichols went right at the snap and put his hands up to fake a swing pass the Broncos ran at Nevada.
McNichols also was the decoy at Wyoming, but on that play — like the one against Oklahoma — the tight end to the left provided a critical block.
“I was hoping and praying it would work because it’s got the greatest name of all-time,” Sanford said.
He named the play ’Murica because the Broncos needed to shout it at the line of scrimmage. Statue or Liberty would be too obvious.
The signal for the play was a tap of the heart, like a salute, Sanford said.
“So it’s about as American as you can get on a ballplay,” he said.
Hedrick added a twist by shouting: “I’m throwing it. I’m throwing it.”
Ajayi ducked on the fake swing pass, like he was trying to get out of the way of the ball.
“Every time we ran that play in practice we worked on the showmanship of the play because you do have to sell it pretty good to get the defense to bite,” Ajayi said.
Once Ajayi got the ball, the play turned into power football. Left guard Travis Averill and right guard Mario Yakoo pulled into the open field to provide an escort and Ajayi sealed the touchdown by planting cornerback Cam Denson in the turf with a stiff arm at the 5-yard line.
“I saw one of the best stiff arms I’ve ever seen in a game by Jay,” Harsin said. “Jay was determined to get in there.”
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