Offensive linemen can do their quarterback a solid in ways beyond just preventing him from being killed. Sometimes your quarterback is going to make a boo boo, which opens the door to a multitude of secondary roles. Offensive linemen may be called on to make a tackle, and if a quarterback is really lucky, those offensive linemen might force a fumble during said tackle, which is recovered by the quarterback who started the mess in the first place.
Somehow circumstances worked out exactly that way for Pete Thomas on Saturday.
NC State had the ball inside Louisiana Tech's five late in the second quarter, poised to extend its three-score lead. Tech was desperate for a stop and showed pressure on third down; State was in an empty set, so Thomas figured a quick throw was going to be necessary. He misread the defense in this instance--it was a deceptive look from the Bulldogs, and it worked. They showed blitz, but they only brought three guys, dropping three would-be pass rushers into zone coverage.
If the Bulldogs actually did bring all six guys, playing man coverage like Thomas thought they were, this is an easy touchdown. Bryan Underwood does his job here, providing a nice pick of questionable legality on Cherry's defender, freeing the freshman up over the middle, and that's right where Thomas is going.
Unfortunately, even with just three men coming, the boundary-side rusher is completely untouched, giving Thomas zero time to evaluate what's happened since the snap. And now there is a defender in between the ball and Cherry.
So it was that LARGE HEROES EMERGED. Rob Crisp made the initial hit on IK Enemkpali as Quinton Schooley hustled over. Schooley's hit jarred the ball loose, and Thomas hopped on it while simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief.
This was a significant turn of events, without question. NC State got a fresh set of downs, and it would eventually take advantage with a Matt Dayes touchdown run to push the lead to 24-0. That sequence had to be demoralizing for the Bulldogs, who already had watched their offense fumble the ball away twice in the red zone.
In this case, the big fellas up front were there to save some bacon and make the highlight reel for once. Pete Thomas owes Crisp and Schooley dinner, and we all owe the two of them for the potential stress they saved us. It's not often you're going to see a guy throw a pick and recover a fumble on the same play, but thanks to a little hustle, that's exactly what we got.
Here's the full play, via ESPN: