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Hunter Renfrow’s game-winning TD wasn’t a pick play; it was a legal ‘rub route’

It wasn’t a pick.


That won’t sit well with Alabama fans, and I get it. Deshaun Watson’s touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left to lift Clemson to a 35-31 win over the Crimson Tide in Monday’s national championship game looked like a pick play at first glance.

A lot of media folks called it a pick. Even Watson, interviewed on the field right after the game, called it a pick. And, of course, pick plays are illegal. They should result in offensive pass interference.

But this one wasn’t a pick. It was a legal rub route. Painful as it is for Alabama fans, the officials got it right. Why?

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Because the contact came between a receiver and the cornerback who was covering him. That isn’t a pick. A pick is when one receiver picks off a defensive back who is covering a different player. The phrase “pick play” comes from basketball. In basketball, players set a pick, which is legal, obviously, if the player setting the pick isn’t moving at time of contact. But basketball players don’t pick guys who are covering them. They pick players who are covering a teammate, which allows that teammate to run free.

So back to the game-deciding play. Renfrow was in the slot to the right, and Artavis Scott was lined up to his right. Alabama was in man coverage. Tony Brown was covering Renfrow, and Marlon Humphrey was on Scott. When the ball was snapped, Watson rolled right. Scott, the receiver out wide, released inside, or to his left. Humphrey tried to cut him off, pressed him, trying to not allow the inside release. The two collided and Scott fell to the ground. If Renfrow had not been lined up on the same side, nobody would have called it a pick. Just a collision between a receiver and the cornerback who was covering him.

But Renfrow was in the slot, running an out route. And because he anticipated the collision – or rub route – he slid underneath it, as he is supposed to do. Brown had no choice but to go around the collision, allowing Renfrow to slide to the right front corner of the end zone wide open and Watson found him for the easy score.

Now, was the offensive team, in this case Clemson, trying to cause commotion? Absolutely. Is the play designed to have Scott and Humphrey collide, forming a barrier of sorts? Definitely. And if the play is executed properly, the inside receiver slips under it – actually runs in front of the two colliding players – and the defensive back covering him must run behind the play, or over the top. He can chase him to the inside, but he still would have to go around the collision, making him even further behind. The result is the receiver usually is wide open.

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Clemson executed it to perfection. It was a rub route that caused a collision that the defensive player couldn’t get around, yet at no time did an offensive player pick off a defender covering someone else.

Many times, officials get confused and call a pick play in this instance, even though they shouldn’t. Credit this crew for knowing the rules – even if many fans and media don’t – and keeping their flags in their pockets.

Clemson didn’t get away with one. The Tigers just perfectly executed a legal play. And in so doing, won the national championship.

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(You can follow Frank Frangie on Twitter @Frank_Frangie)

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