January 7, 2014

Counter Left: The story behind Whitfield's explosive return

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Pick your moment, there were plenty of them. Winston's final pass. Jimbo's fake. Mason's run.

But the one that got them started, those frantic final minutes of a legendary fourth quarter, goes by two simple words.

"Counter Left."

That's the name of the return that sprung freshman Levonte Whitfield for 100 yards and Florida State's first lead in the BCS Championship Game. Perhaps the most interesting part of the play itself is how it was called.

Special teams coordinator Charles Kelly, when requested for comment, was intent on walking with running backs coach Jay Graham to answer questions. The reason? Graham suggested the play.

"First of all, I'm going to give him the credit," Kelly said. "Everybody asks me because I'm the special teams coordinator, but Jay's the one that made the call. He's worked that return, he's believed in it all year and it's worked good for us."

It wasn't the first time the 'Noles tried the play Monday night.

"We've got guys up in the boxes and we all talk about it, we said we thought it was there," explained Graham. "We ran it in the first half and it almost got out of there and we came back to it. It was a great job by Kermit, great blocking up front."

The execution comes in two waves. First, the front line blockers attack to the returner's right in order to create a crease. Then it's up to players like Chad Abram and Karlos Williams to lead the way.

Williams' success in sealing Johnathon Mincy sprung the play.

"Once I saw that Karlos made that block, I cut off him and started running," said Whitfield. "I started accelerating, running for it as fast as I could. And when I run as fast as I (can), there's nobody that can catch me."

"I stopped him a couple of times (to take a knee) already and me and him had a conversation about it," Williams said. "I tried to be cautious, big game, that was my fault. Should have let the kid be loose before that, but you know when he caught the ball and brought it out of the end zone, he showed the world what he was made of."

Auburn helped the cause too by losing two men in coverage. Linebacker Kenny Flowers left his lane, on the returner's left, to fire up the middle of the field. In the same middle lane, defensive back Jonathan Jones crumbled to the ground with a non-contact leg injury.

With good leverage plus poor fundamentals come big plays. Up-blocker Reggie Northrup said if he ever sees Whitfield before a whistle, it's a good sign.

"Once he passes me," smiled Northrup, "he's gone."

As for Whitfield's speed - the freshman boasted he's never been caught from behind before - a familiar home-run hitting back offered affirmation.

"Kermit would beat me (in a 100-yard race) by maybe 25-30 yards," said former 'Nole Chris Thompson. "No lie... I can't compete with that."

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