Considering how much was at stake and how improbable the game ended, it can be argued that Auburn’s 100-yard missed field goal return to beat top-ranked Alabama on the game’s last play was the greatest play in college football history. But the play may never have happened if not for a little bit of luck, some bad choices, and some fortunate circumstances.
Let’s take a look back.
The game originally appeared to be heading to overtime when TJ Yeldon did not get out of bounds in time on his 23-yard run. The officials on the field ruled that regulation had indeed ended.
However, the play was reviewed and the replay official overturned the result and ruled that Yeldon’s foot did come down with one second still on the clock.
Instead of attempting a Hail Mary, Nick Saban opted for the last-second 57-yard field goal attempt. Alabama’s starting kicker, Cade Foster, was 0-3 earlier in the game, although he did make one field goal that was called back because of a penalty. Redshirt freshman Adam Griffith has a strong leg and was making field goals from 60 yards during warm-ups according to Saban.
So Saban kept Foster on the bench and sent the freshman out to attempt just his third field goal of the season.
Before Chris Davis even caught the kick in the back of the endzone, several important things have already happened. As the kick goes up, the first thing you notice is that everybody is just standing and watching the kick. According to Saban, his players are supposed to fan out and cover the entire field from sideline-to-sideline. However, notice that there is not a single Alabama player on the left side of the field.
Also notice that the first player, besides Davis, to notice that the kick is going to be short is Jermaine Whitehead of Auburn (no. 9) standing near the 30-yard line. Just before Davis catches the ball, Whitehead has already started running to the left side of the field ready to block.
After Davis catches the ball, Alabama is now on defence and assigned with tackling a fast runner in the open field. But Alabama is woefully unprepared for this task.
On the field for Alabama is a kicker, a holder, five offensive lineman, two linebackers, and two receivers. In other words, Bama had two players on the field (the linebackers, nos. 55 and 42) who are natural defenders that could have realistically made the tackle. That left a lot of very large players trying to chase down a fast player in the open field.
Earlier we saw Whitehead start running to the left side of the field to start blocking even before Davis caught the ball. This tells us that the return was designed to go left the entire way. However, Davis started to the right, which was just enough to keep the larger players in the middle of the field and out of his way (via ESPN):
Watching the play live, it looked like Davis stepped out of bounds at least once. However, replays showed that his right heal was above the white line, but never came down and touched the line.
Once Davis cleared the sideline and the one wave of defenders who might have stopped him, there was nobody on the field that was going to catch him from behind.
Once Davis scored, all that was left was ecstasy for Auburn and the agony for Bama.
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