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Circus calls for three receivers to line up to the right, one of whom is speedy senior Jerard Rabb. A fourth--Drisan James, who'd already caught a pair of touchdown passes against the Sooners--is split to the left. He runs a 15-yard square-in and looks for the pass. After making the catch, he turns upfield for a step or two before pivoting and pitching the ball to Rabb, who by this time should be crossing the field behind him, going in the opposite direction. The play is harder to execute than it sounds.
One of the reasons the play seldom works in practice, it turns out, is that Drisan and Rabb tend to go all Meadowlark Lemon. "Drisan will try to flip the ball behind his back," says Hamdan. "When Rabb gets it, he'll go with a through-the-legs pitch to Ian."
Oh, yes-- Johnson and Zabransky are charged with pursuing the play, in case more laterals become necessary.
Against Oklahoma, they weren't. That had everything to do with James's gifts as a thespian. He caught Z's pass three yards shy of the first down, tucked the ball and took a step upfield. Five Sooners converged, then gouged out chunks of the turf trying to change direction as Rabb took James's perfect pitch going the other way.
"When Jerard sees all that green in front of him," says offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, "his body language is like, Holy crap! Then he finds another gear." Oklahoma corner Lendy Holmes was closing, but Rabb dived into the end zone with seven seconds left.
"I can't remember who we stole it from," says Petersen of Circus, "but we've had it for three years." He tweaked it last season. In the old version Raab would take the pitch while running toward the three-receiver side. "I remember looking at it and saying, 'There are too many people over here,' says Petersen. "Everybody was like, Hey, whatever. If we have to use this, we're sunk anyway."
Harsin, meanwhile, raves about the players' execution. "You might expect some panic, some guys freaking out, running the route five yards short," he says. "But the pocket was firm, the throw was on the money. Drisan's depth was perfect. He makes the catch, takes a couple of steps upfield, which pulls the corner and the backside safety down. And his pitch hits Jerard in the belly button."
Congratulated on the composure he showed under intense pressure, James shrugs it off. "To be honest," he says, "I didn't realize it was fourth down."
There was some thought, even then, of ending the game on the next play. Petersen decided to kick the point and take his chances in overtime. "I felt like we had the momentum back," he explains. "I wanted to get into overtime and see what we could do. Then we won the coin toss, so I'm thinking, O.K., this thing's going our way."
Not exactly. Oklahoma's first play in the extra session proved to be Peterson's final carry as a Sooner. The NFL-bound junior bounced a stretch play to the outside, ran through two tackles like a man pushing through a turnstile and scored on a 25-yard run. To that point the Boise State defense had stood toe-to-toe with Oklahoma, forcing four turnovers and holding Peterson to 52 yards rushing. Marty Tadman, a 5'11", 182-pound, prodigiously tattooed safety--a guy who looks like he should be dispensing espresso shots and attitude at a coffee bar near you--had picked off two passes, returning one for a touchdown. But now the Broncos were running on fumes. "Our D was gassed," says senior linebacker Korey Hall, the WAC defensive player of the year.