Late in the first quarter of No. 1 Alabama’s 10-0 win at No. 13 LSU on Saturday, the Crimson Tide almost safetied themselves. But they didn’t.
Alabama had a second-and-11 at its own 1-yard line. The Tigers got pressure on freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, who stayed pretty close to his own pocket behind the line of scrimmage. Under pressure, Hurts chucked the ball toward the Alabama sideline, in an area completely devoid of Alabama receivers.
Live, the throw looked strikingly like intentional grounding. Because Hurts threw out of his own end zone, that would’ve resulted in a safety, giving LSU a 2-0 lead, the ball, and a lot of momentum, to whatever extent you believe in such things. (Against Alabama, it’s probably best not to believe in it much at all. But anyway.)
Hurts wasn’t flagged, though, and Alabama avoided that fate. Whether that was the right call is hard to say for sure. Let’s run through it.
Here’s the NCAA’s rulebook, outlining an example of a grounding foul:
Quarterback A10, who is not outside the tackle box and is attempting to save yardage, intentionally throws a desperation forward pass that falls incomplete where there is no eligible Team A receiver.
And the tackle box is defined thusly:
The tackle box is the rectangular area enclosed by the neutral zone, the two lines parallel to the sidelines five yards from the snapper, and Team A’s end line.
Nobody’s going to make the case that this wasn’t a “desperation forward pass,” right? Hurts is about to get hit for a safety, and he throws to where no one is. Check.
Is Hurts within five yards horizontally of where Alabama snapped, and therefore inside the tackle box? Well, that’s borderline, and it’s likely why Hurts avoided a flag.
Here’s where Alabama snaps from:
And here’s where Hurts releases the ball:
Eyeballing it, Hurts is about five yards right of where Alabama snapped the ball, putting him on the border of his own tackle box. If he’s in it, this should be grounding and a safety. If he’s not, it’s fine.
The referee watching him clearly thought he was safe. From here, that looks to be narrowly correct, but I’m not confident enough to say so for sure.
Either way, Alabama was fortunate. This was almost trouble, and if Hurts did get outside the tackle box, it’s tough to imagine he was measuring while he was doing it.