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EUGENE — Third-and-16: It’s the play and situation that eliminated Oregon from the College Football Playoff conversation.
Moments after a sack, just the second of the game for the Ducks against a porous Arizona State offensive line, presented a golden opportunity to make a stop and get the ball back to the offense with a chance to cap off a miraculous comeback, Jayden Daniels uncorked a deep throw to Brandon Aiyuk down the left sideline and all Deommodore Lenoir and Verone McKinley III could do was chase after the Sun Devils speed demon on his way to the end zone.
“I couldn’t believe he got behind him on third-and-16,” ASU offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “To his credit, Jayden, that he saw it. He stayed on it. That’s his first read on that progression. He stayed on it and it’s been a process of talking about look, we have two of the best in the country deep-ball guys that can track down deep balls with (Aiyuk) and Frank (Darby).”
In essence, the only thing Oregon couldn’t allow to happen, happened. A stop could’ve gotten the ball back, but a conversion at least would’ve allowed the Ducks to try and get off the field again.
Instead, an extremely low probability play became the exclamation point on a stunning 31-28 upset for Arizona State, which put up 535 yards including 408 in the air from Daniels, and clinched a bowl berth while knocking Oregon off the national stage.
“They max (protected) so we couldn’t get to the quarterback,” Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “They chipped the edge guys and they ran a double move. Obviously (Lenoir) is one of our best players; he’s one of our best guys and I’ll take him 10 times over again in the situation. I love him and we’ll be much better for it, we’ll learn from it and we’ll grow. We can do a better job of helping him with the coverage and with the pro safety and things like that.
“We’re growing. We’re still always a work in progress. They say you’re always growing or you’re dying and we got to be growing every single week, every single rep to make sure we understand situational football so that we can play to certain situations.”
The absurdity of the 81-yard touchdown in that situation is hard to overstate.
There have only been three other passes of 80-plus yards on third-and-10-plus allowed in the FBS this season but two were in non-competitive situations and the other was early in the first quarter of a scoreless game and made no difference to the outcome.
Only a handful of such plays happen in any given season. Virginia Tech allowed an 80-yard pass to North Carolina on third-and-15 last season but went on to force a fumble at the 1-yard line and then drove 98 yards to win the game. Alabama even allowed an 80-yard passing score on third-and-11 in the 2018 CFP National Championship against Georgia, but it was during the third quarter of a game the Crimson Tide went on to win in overtime.
When taking score and impact into account, it’s hard to find the last instance of such a meaningful and long touchdown pass allowed during the fourth quarter of a one-score game.
“It’s all of us together being better in the situation and unders