The most notable play of the young college football season was, unquestionably, this ridiculous fumble by Louisiana Tech.
The official box score entry on this doesn’t do this play any justice whatsoever:
TEAM rush for no gain to the MS6, fumble by TEAM recovered by LATECH POWELL, Cee Jay at LATECH7.
This play set up a third-and-93 for God’s sake, and the reason there’s only one fumble listed is that nobody established possession really.
The only thing I can think of that was remotely like it is the Holy Roller play from decades ago, albeit that was going in the other direction.
But this is so much more than that. In a matter of seconds this one play was four different sports at the same time.
I’ll affectionately refer to it as the Unholy Roller. Let’s walk through it together.
This is where it all started. People take for granted how hard it is to snap the ball and still get an effective block on a defender. On this play, the snap does come out a little hot and off-center, but it hits the QB, J’Mar Smith, in the hands. You should expect him to catch it.
Obviously, he does not.
And away we go.
Observe the quick look over the shoulder there. I can only imagine Smith is thinking at that very moment some variation of “ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod.”
But he’s actually in a good spot, all things considered. He’s got a pretty good jump on things and all he’s gotta do is shield the ball with his body and reel the thing in. Easy-peasy.
Not only does Smith kinda paw the thing instead of bringing it in, he touches it one last time, changing its vector and throwing off Mississippi State’s Maurice Smitherman’s track ever so slightly.
Here, Smitherman is a baseball outfielder without a webbed glove. That makes things a little difficult. In a perfect world, he’d use some Rawlings leather and gather the ball in and come up firing to gun some baserunner out.
This is not a perfect world.
Grabbing an oblong ball is never easy. Our Bill Connelly has a term to deal with fumble recovery statistics. It’s called fumble luck. You can be in the right position 100 times out of 100, and both Smith and Smitherman are in the right spots to bring this thing in. But that egg-shaped thing has a mind of its own sometimes whether you like it or not.
The first kick.
Smitherman’s paw almost tees the ball up for him to kick it forward in nearly a straight line with now height. It just goes straight forward.
But it sets up the one thing every bonkers fumble has:
The two Mississippi State players who try to grab it at the same time.
Smitherman chases after his kicked ball, and now he’s joined by linebacker Marquiss Spencer. Both are trying to make a play. Neither does.
The dead fish.
Incredibly, Spencer essentially deadens the ball with his touch. It goes from an end-over-end roller to a zombie football now rolling on its side like a leather tumbleweed.
Cue Smitherman one more time, who admirably has not given up on the play.
Ok, now we’re actually playing football, or more accurately, futbol. Smitherman knocks this across the 6-yard box like it’s a FIFA video game to teammate Lashard Durr. Smitherman also exits proceedings because Smith absolutely takes him out.
Durr is now basically Leo Messi, and we’ve reverted to soccer.
The quickest soccer players will typically pull a move where, while dribbling, they kick the ball forward into open space to create separation with a defender. Durr does precisely that.
That is a seriously deft first touch with his foot, folks. Ignore the fact that he’s trying to grab the ball to no avail. Picture him 1 vs. 1 with a defenseless goalkeeper in front of him. His second kick gives him serious space to create separation, and if he hadn’t stumbled I would have loved to see his clinical finish on goal.
Oh, yeah, right. We’re playing American football here still. Sorry.
But we’re not playing college football now.
Back when the XFL came into existence in the early aughts, they had this thing about coin tosses. They thought they were lame and they did away with them. Instead, they did this scramble-for-the-ball thing.
Essentially, two dudes would dead sprint to a dead ball and pick it up.
It was not a great idea, evidenced by the fact that in Week 1 of the XFL season, a player separated his shoulder scrambling and was out for the season.
But, that’s what we have here.
Louisiana Tech’s Cee Jay Powell and Mississippi State’s Willie Gay Jr. are all out scrambling for the ball as the last two men standing.
Powell emerges the victor.
The Unholy Roller will go down in the annals of the sport as the beautiful marriage of really three sports. It took us on an 80-yard spiritual journey that transcends college football. There were paws, there were kicks, and there were incredible physics on this roller coaster.
I’m thankful the Unholy Roller could enter into my heart.