There are some kickoff returns that seem to take an eternity to develop: cuts followed by jukes followed by broken tackles followed by jump stops followed by stiff-arms followed by an eventual touchdown. But sometimes, when the blocking is just right, the returner just needs to run straight ahead.
Facing the Southern University Jaguars in the 41st annual Bayou Classic, with the all-time series knotted at 20 wins apiece ‒ and with a spot in this weekend’s Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game on the line, the Grambling State Tigers decided they weren’t going to wait around for anyone. Specifically, Ka’Jandre Domino (#11) took matters into his own hands and brought the crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans to their feet in a matter of seconds.
With 13:20 remaining in the third quarter, the Tigers trailed the Jaguars 38-17, and the game appeared to be slipping away as they set up to return the Southern kick:
The still above shows the field as Southern kicks off. On the far left, circled in blue is the Southern kickoff team, making its way down the field. Fifteen yards in front of them in the red oval is the first line of Grambling State’s return unit. The Tigers station five men near the 50-yard line. This quintet’s primary responsibilities are to check for an onside kick and then retreat into their territory before making initial blocks.
Twenty yards behind the front line ‒ highlighted in the red box ‒ is a group of four additional Tigers. These players initially look for a squib kick, but will then build momentum heading into critical blocks for the return. Behind these four players, indicated with two red arrows, are the deep return men waiting for the ball.
As the ball travels through the air, Grambling State sets up their return:
The front line has dropped to the Tiger 40-yard line and engages their initial blocks. A key point to note is that nearly all of the Grambling State players have their backs turned to the near sideline. This indicates that they are trying to block the Jaguars towards the far sideline. Southern’s defenders, if well-coached, should attempt to go butt-side of the block to avoid it and pressure where the return is attempting to go.
In the center of the frame, the next four Tigers congregate near the center of the field at the 25-yard line. Once there, they will work upfield in order to make their blocks.
Behind them, Domino (indicated by the green arrow) has dropped to his 1-yard line in anticipation of the kick. The other return man has also slid towards the center of the field several yards in front of Domino.
Domino receives the ball and starts upfield:
Twenty five yards ahead of him, a number of Grambling State players have engaged their assignments. While this seems to be a positive factor for the Tigers, it also means these players must hold their blocks for several seconds until Domino reaches them. This task can be incredibly difficult and is why most teams typically try to wait until later on in a kickoff to set their blocks.
In the center of the frame, indicated by the blue arrow, an unblocked Southern defender is closing on the returner. The blocker immediately in front of Domino could impede this defender, allowing Domino to bounce to the right and cut away from him. But this is not what occurs:
Domino doesn’t cut. He accelerates. Going nearly straight up the right hash Domino catches the Southern defender off-guard. The defender takes a terrible angle and is left in his vapor trail..
Indicated with blue arrows, there are four new Jaguars closing in on Domino. One of them is fighting through a block, while another may be taken out by the other Grambling State returner. Domino’s initial pursuer is still inside the right hash and, despite the difficult angle, may be able to make the stop. But the other Jaguar is completely unblocked and appears to have the inside track on taking down Domino.
The scene ahead of this is much better for the Tigers, with a number of players still engaged on blocks. If Domino is able to somehow thread the needle at his 20-yard line, he may have a chance to pick up significant yardage.
Domino reaches ludicrous speed:
He blows past the Southern defenders, taking the ball just outside the right hash in a strong vertical move. There is very little horizontal action, as he continues to accelerate. He is three yards past these defenders in no time.
Ahead of him to his left, there are three Jaguars still hung up and unable to get off their blocks. The Grambling State kickoff unit has done a phenomenal job of maintaining these blocks without incurring a holding penalty. The only potential threat to Domino at this point is to his right, but that man is quickly picked up by Domino’s lead blocker (indicated by the red arrow). He bursts past these defenders and has only the kicker to beat:
Cutting hard to his left, Domino turns nearly parallel to the 35-yard line as he tries to sprint past the kicker. While this is normally a contest that is over within the first two steps, Southern’s kicker puts up one of the best fights I have seen from a kicker in 2014. He forces Domino all the way to the opposite side of the field before he is able to turn back upfield:
Domino is now nearly at the numbers on the left side of the field, having made a complete traverse. This maneuver has put him in the path of another Jaguar, indicated by the blue arrow. Domino is forced to once again turn on his jets in order to outrun yet another Southern defender. He makes his move upfield and emerges victorious:
The spotlight belongs exclusively to Domino on this one. His speed and decisiveness allowed him to create a huge play out of a difficult situation, putting his team back in the game at a point where they appeared to be out of it. Although Grambling State lost 52-45, this was a critical play for the Tigers, giving his team a chance to battle to the end.
All video and images courtesy NBC Sports.
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