As time expired in Saturday night's LSU-Auburn game, LSU took a last-second snap, and quarterback Danny Etling rolled out to find receiver D.J. Chark in the right corner of the end zone. Chark made a brilliant catch that, for a moment, appeared to give LSU a 19-18 victory. But it didn't work out that way, and LSU lost the touchdown and the game.
Let's break down everything here.
1. Despite an LSU foul before the play, there was no clock runoff.
Lots of fouls in the last minute of a game carry a 10-second clock runoff, so it's reasonable to wonder why the game didn't end after LSU was flagged for an illegal shift on the play before. Unlike, for instance, a false start, illegal shifting isn't a foul that carries a runoff. But there are also some clock and enforcement issues at play here, which we'll get to shortly.
2. But the clock was about to roll again, and LSU had to be really quick.
The clock was still set to start running a moment later, slated to start on an official's whistle. And the play LSU had run beforehand, the one with the illegal shift flag, ended with exactly one second left on the clock.
This meant LSU would need to snap the ball after the whistle, but before the clock read all zeroes. That's less than a second, by definition.
3. LSU snapped the ball. Etling's throw would've been legal.
Let's pretend LSU had gotten the play off in time. Etling was charging pretty hard toward the line of scrimmage at Auburn's 15, and much of his body was beyond the line when he threw. But to call a penalty, Etling's entire body would've had to cross the line of scrimmage at the time he released the ball.
Sure looks like Etling's back foot is behind the line. This throw likely would've been correctly allowed after a review.
4. Chark's catch was great, too.
The LSU receiver made a brilliant reception. He clearly controlled the ball and got at least his left foot in bounds. This was incredible footwork and hand-eye coordination.
5. So LSU wins, right?
Well, no. Because:
The ball didn't get snapped in time, pretty clearly. That's why this was already over. But there's a good case, brought to our attention since the ending of the game, that the last ill-fated snap shouldn't have happened, anyway.
Officials appear to have misreported the LSU dead-ball foul on the second-to-last play of the game. On that play, LSU receiver Chark never got set before LSU's late snap, which is the sort of illegal shift defined as a false start. That likely should've been called a dead-ball foul that, unlike, illegal shifting, would've carried a 10-second runoff, because the game clock was running. This isn't reviewable, so it didn't turn out to change anything about the last play.
Officials missed a similar illegal shifting-false start on LSU's Travin Dural (No. 83 at the bottom of the screen above) on the last snap that didn't count. If LSU had been called for false starting instead of an illegal shift on the previous play, that would've been game over before all of this. We'll see what, if anything, the SEC has to say about this point.
6. So Auburn wins, even though it gave up a backbreaking last-second TD?
You'd better believe it! Auburn backed into this win harder than any sports team has backed into any win in the history of organized sport, but a win's a win. LSU's last play, officially, never happened.
It won't go in any stat books, and it won't count anywhere but in the minds of some sad LSU fans. Those people deserve some sympathy, because most sports fans never have to go through an ordeal exactly like this one.