The Wisconsin Badgers won a 25-21 thriller over the Illinois Fighting Illini last Saturday, courtesy of a go-ahead touchdown pass from quarterback Braedyn Locke to... offensive tackle Nolan Rucci to secure the victory.
It was a gutsy playcall from offensive coordinator Phil Longo with less than a minute left and the Badgers had two plays to ultimately win the game, but it ultimately paid off, as Wisconsin trotted away with a needed victory on the road.
How did that play transpire?
It all started with the timeout, as Illinois looked to adjust ahead of the final seconds, which allowed the Badgers to regroup and shift to the bold playcall, which surprised everyone.
“I mean, [I was] a little bit surprised [at the playcall],” quarterback Braedyn Locke said after the game. “Third and goal there down there on, I think, the four-yard line, maybe three-yard line, something like that. They called the timeout. So that kind of gave us chance to kind of regroup.”
Even Nolan Rucci, who has been waiting to hear his name called all season long, was surprised at the moment.
“I mean, at that point, I really still couldn’t believe it was happening, to be honest,” Rucci said after the game. “It was like one of those things you rep in practice. Maybe we’ll run that sometime towards the later end of the season, but just to be in that moment and catch it still felt like a dream and even now, still can’t believe it.”
Rucci’s job was to serve as an initial blocker before leaking out as an eligible receiver once the receivers moved the cornerbacks out of the area.
“Yeah, obviously part of my job was to just kind of sit there for a few seconds and block and let the receivers drag the corners out and then obviously run upfield,” Rucci said. “And as soon as I saw that ball in the air, it just kind of felt like slow motion and just saw it come right of [Braedyn’s] hands and still couldn’t believe when I caught it.”
Going into the play, Locke had confidence, despite the shift to a newly-repped play, pointing to the execution as the reason the Badgers came out with the victory.
“I had confidence in it,” Locke said. “We repped it a lot and really tried to make that play as perfect as we can with the shift with the fake and all that, so thought it was great execution.”
“I thought Rucci made a tremendous catch, a great adjustment to the ball. So proud of those guys. And it was great execution.”
Locke initially thought the pass was a little high, but it all turned out fine, as the Badgers scored a much-needed touchdown that ultimately served as the go-ahead score in the game.
That playcall wasn't Longo’s only gutsy move on the drive, as the Badgers elected to run the football near midfield on a 3rd & 10, despite clock driving down, which paid off as Allen earned the first down on that play alone.
Now, the Badgers may need a few more gutsy calls up their sleeve, as they face a tough challenge with Ohio State in town this weekend, with Wisconsin seen as massive underdogs to open the week.