Why Clemson’s ‘Pick Play’ On Game-Winning TD Pass Was Perfectly Legal

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Monday night’s college football championship had it all: late lead changes, exceptional play from the game’s star player — and, of course, controversy on the final score.

With just one second remaining, Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow caught a touchdown pass from DeShaun Watson to lift the Tigers to a 35-31 win over Alabama.

Another look at the play reveals why Renfrow was so wide open: Clemson wide receiver Artavis Scott, lined up on the outside, got tangled up with Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey while running a slant, forcing slot cornerback Tony Brown to play catch-up, as the Crimson Tide were in man coverage.

It was a classic execution of the “pick play,” which college and NFL teams both run with frequency — the New England Patriots have made it a staple of their offense under Tom Brady. But is the play legal? Should Scott have been flagged for offensive pass interference for essentially taking out Humphrey?

In this case, the officials got it right. Scott did make contact with his defender, but Humphrey returned the contact, appearing to pull Scott to the ground as the players got tangled up. Scott also didn’t target another defender: He stayed on Humphrey, and because the defensive back engaged him, there was no grounds for offensive pass interference.

Jay Harbaugh, a Michigan assistant coach and the son of Jim Harbaugh, agreed the refs made the right call.

But if such a play is legal, how do you defend it? Well, just ask the Patriots, who saw an inverse of Clemson’s pick play in Super Bowl XLIX.

Seattle Seahawks slot receiver Jermaine Kearse tried to pick New England cornerback Brandon Browner while Ricardo Lockette ran a slant route. The rest, of course, is history.

Monday night’s play obviously was different, but one Alabama player saw it coming. According to FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman, injured Crimson Tide defensive back Eddie Jackson was screaming “Watch the pick! Watch the pick!” on the sideline before the game-winning score.

If Brown had recognized the pick play in time, he might have been able to elude Scott and Humphrey and break up the pass. Instead, Renfrow was left wide open for a perfectly legal, game-winning score.

Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images

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