“That’s why you call it a trick play,” Marshall said, “Because everybody is thrown off guard now.”
Trailing Alabama 21-13, the Buckeyes had the ball on the Crimson Tide’s 13-yard line with just 12 seconds until halftime. It felt like a must-score situation for Ohio State, who was just one for three in scoring touchdowns on red zone trips to that point. That’s when offensive coordinator Tom Herman and coach Urban Meyer dialed up something tricky for the Tide.
Quarterback Cardale Jones took the snap and handed the ball to Marshall, who had motioned from the left side of the formation to a spot in the backfield to the quarterback’s left just before the play. The H-back took the carry to the right and pitched back to Spencer.
The senior receiver set his feet at the 22-yard line and sent a ball towards the end zone along the left sideline. Waiting for the pass was fellow receiver Michael Thomas, who skied over Tide cornerback Cyrus Jones, caught the ball at his highest point before falling toward the turf. Thomas acrobatically tucked his left foot inside the sideline for a touchdown.
“I knew when it would get called I had a great chance to make it happen,” Spencer said. “When I saw it coming it started to look pretty good. I just hoped that he would go get the ball and get his feet in bounds.”
Thomas did and Spencer went high-stepping toward his sideline to celebrate with teammates. That pulled the Buckeyes within 21-20 just before the half, a key play in their big comeback.
While there is often talk of team’s inserting new wrinkles into the playbook in bowl practice, the trick play that hit against Alabama has been an option for Ohio State’s play-callers for a while. The team ran it against Michigan State on Nov. 8, but Spencer elected to tuck and run.
“I didn’t like the look at first and I pulled it down and ran,” Spencer said of the play against Michigan State. “This time I liked it. Mike did really well on his route and I just gave him a shot and he made it.”
That play was a big part of the win that sent the Buckeyes to the national title game against Oregon on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. Marshall remains the backup for that game, but Spencer showed that Ohio State has plenty of players who can throw the ball if called upon.
“I’ve definitely got the better arm,” Marshall said in a victorious postgame locker room Jan. 1 “But when it came down to it, Evan made the clutch play for the Buckeyes.”