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Trey Klock’s touchdown, broken down

One of the greatest moments in Northwestern’s incredible comeback merits a closer look.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All year long, Trey Klock had been catching passes in pregame warmups. The graduate transfer from Georgia Tech, initially purely an offensive lineman, was often used this year as a blocking super back in short yardage packages. But the 6-4, 296-pound senior, who played tight end in high school, had to wait all year to get his turn in the limelight.

With Northwestern trailing 20-17, JR Pace scooped up a Trae Williams strip and returned it near the Utah 31. Immediately, a play Mick McCall had been sitting on for weeks became salient. “That’s something we hadn’t used in a while,” McCall told Inside NU. “Those guys always want to tell me how big of a playmaker they’re gonna be. Well, he got a chance, and he made the play.”

The Wildcats have used the design multiple times in the past, most notably having Kain Colter find offensive lineman Paul Jorgensen for a touchdown in a 2012 blowout of Illinois. The Jorgensen touchdown came off of a turnover as well, but Northwestern threw in a new wrinkle this time.

Instead of going for the trick play to begin the series, McCall dialed up a Bowser run first. When that succeeded, resulting in a first down, the Wildcats had the opportunity they needed. They broke the huddle in a strange formation, with Fox announcer Joel Klatt already suspecting a trick play:

This formation hides J.B. Butler, who had lined up at his normal guard slot on the previous play, in the backfield momentarily, with three other offensive lineman shifted over a spot. Blake Hance is at left guard, and Tommy Doles switched from left guard to right guard to replace Butler. Meanwhile, Klock, who had already declared himself eligible on the last play, when he was used as a blocking tight end, lined up in the nominal left tackle spot.

When Thorson had the players in the backfield motion out, Utah was confused, as is obviously the goal.

Utah didn’t have somebody specific cover Butler, who was in the right slot, but they had an linebacker shade towards him. With the other linebacker (the Utes are in a nickel package) forced to mark Bowser in the other slot, there is nobody on top of Klock, and Utah still seems unaware of his eligibility.

The safety over the top caught on, but not quickly enough to prevent the catch, and Klock rumbled in for the go-ahead touchdown. The Wildcats would never relinquish the lead.

The key to the play was that Butler, an ineligible lineman, remained on the line as he motioned out while being covered by the outside receiver, and that the slot receiver inside of him, along with the two guys outside of Klock, remained in the backfield. If any of those five had messed up their positioning, Northwestern would have drawn an illegal formation penalty, and the whole play would’ve been made moot.

For Trey Klock, who toiled through two years as a depth offensive linemen before finally getting some playing time in pure blocking sets down the stretch, it was an incredible way to close out his career. “I’m just so thankful [the coaches] believed in me and gave me a shot,” Klock said. “The play was just unbelievable.”

Some other nuggets:

  • According to Butler, Klock’s best friend, the coaches didn’t tell him to jump up and down in his role as a decoy. He did it anyway. “Hey, I drew a safety out there!”
  • Thorson’s only comment on the play postgame: “We just had to get the ball to a playmaker.”
  • Fitzgerald, following up: “It didn’t work that well in practice. Our defense covered it almost every time in practice.”

A crazy touchdown in a crazy game to end a crazy season. Fitting.