Auburn-Ole Miss: An Evening Of Chaos, Unrewarded Effort… And A Huge Penalty That Went Uncalled

Auburn-Ole Miss didn’t draw blockbuster-level television ratings, but it could very well remain the single most compelling college football broadcast of the 2014 season. This was sports television at its theatrical, suspenseful, and ultimately heartbreaking zenith.

This was a game which made every onlooker react like this on many — not just a few — occasions:


(Image courtesy of ESPN, found in this post by Rodger Sherman of SB Nation.)

Tigers-Rebels had just about everything: wild pendulum swings of emotion and in-game fortunes; huge plays that were sometimes the result of excellence and other times the product of awful tackling or terrible angles by defenders; loads of penalties that constantly reshaped the tenor of the contest; jarring turnovers; ferocious downfield blocks by receivers; intense hitting; numerous lead changes; and then a one-in-a-trillion play that just happened to decide the outcome… while also shattering a young man’s season and breaking a school’s heart.

This one-in-a trillion play also involved a penalty that went uncalled… a penalty that a shockingly low number of pundits are talking about. We’re going to talk about that penalty and everything else which made Auburn-Ole Miss an unforgettable part of this college football season.


Question No. 1: After his Ole Miss team lost to Auburn, Bo Wallace said the Rebels had the Tigers beaten and that the (College Football Playoff) committee shouldn’t drop them far for the loss. What do you make of that remark?

The full comment:

“I mean, we beat them. That’s football though. (Auburn) — it’s crazy. Things like that just keep happening to them. Life goes on, we’ll come back next week and get ready… If they’re really watching games, I mean, we can’t drop far. We lost the game by that much, so I don’t see how far they can drop us. Our season’s still alive, we feel like. We’ll see on Tuesday how far we fall, but we’re going to keep fighting. Crazy things can happen.”

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

This one has more layers to it than a late 20s single girl with daddy issues. So we’ll break them down one by one before throwing our hands in the air.

1) Ole Miss didn’t beat them. In the end, only the scoreboard matters. That’s what makes sports so easy for us all. You score more, you win. You don’t, you lose. It’s pretty plastic that way.

2) The “things like that just keep happening to them” is an obvious reference to Auburn’s penchant for winning close games against teams not named Florida State over the last two years. I thought it was kind of interesting because on one hand, you see the realism of the guys under the helmets, that they see what we see and gain the same feelings we feel about certain teams. Yes, Auburn does have a knack for winning close games. Whether it’s a bout of skill, luck, or a mixture of both is for God to know, not any of us.

The unique thing about the comment is that other players obviously see Auburn’s late-game heroics and it sticks in their mind, “We’ve got to put these guys away because they just find ways to win late, inexplicable ways.”

3) Then you’ve got the “I mean, if they’re watching the games, we can’t drop far” politicking regarding the CFB Playoff committee. This is all just wrong, unfortunately for Bo. When you lose, you drop a bit for the most part. It’s not a guarantee that you have to drop, but if the end results of the game don’t matter that much, why are we playing them and choosing who makes the playoffs based on the wins and losses?

The second unfortunate part about it is that losing Laquon Treadwell is a double-loss for the team, because he’s one of the elite college football players at his position. The bottom line is, the Rebels aren’t as good of a football team without him than with him, and that sort of thing will and probably should be taken into account, especially considering the eventual log game we’ll see for those playoff spots.

The last part of this is probably the most revealing of it all. Wallace was asked pointed questions in an impossibly emotional state right after a major event he participated in. Emotions run high, especially in your early 20s, and every comment felt like a guy feeling the pain of a crushing loss both on the scoreboard and in reference to a teammate and (likely) friend.

There’s nothing about sports which necessarily designates that they’re going to be fair. All you know is, someone will win, someone will lose, and you do your best to be one and not the other.

It was a bad ending to a great game, and this isn’t an art fair … that’s sometimes how these things go.

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

I can summarize my thoughts with this classic quote from Talladega Nights, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

That’s not to say that I condemn Wallace for speaking his mind. As the leader of the team, he should be telling everyone who will listen that the Rebels belong in the College Football Playoff.

It’s also worth noting that a quarterback lobbying for his team isn’t always doomed to failure. Remember, Nebraska’s Scott Frost went on TV after the 1998 Orange Bowl and argued vehemently that the Huskers should have moved into the top spot over Michigan, which struggled against Ryan Leaf and Washington State in the Rose Bowl. While he didn’t win over the voters in the AP, the coaches elevated the Cornhuskers into the top spot in the poll, sending legendary head coach Tom Osborne off into the sunset with his third national title in his final four seasons.

However, this case is much different. Unlike 1997-’98 Nebraska, which went undefeated, the Rebels have lost two games in the closing minutes of the contest. While that’s certainly nothing to be ashamed about, it should not count the same as a “W” on the resume, either.

Plain and simple: a loss is a loss. Whether the team was an inch away from crossing the plane of the goal line or had a bad call go against it in the waning minutes of the contest, the fact remains that it didn’t win the game.

Let’s be honest: anyone watching the game realized that Ole Miss could have won this game if it had come up with just one more play. Had the Rebels stopped Auburn on a crucial third and 11 early in the third quarter, neither of the two fumbles would have mattered.

Of course, if ifs and buts were candies and nuts, we’d all have a heck of Christmas.

In other words: coming up just short isn’t the same as “we beat them.” To imply that takes away all of the credit from the Tigers, which won the game because they once again made the right play at the right time.

Matt Zemek:

On Twitter @SectionMZ

A few quick points here, followed by a video.

First, I can understand why Dr. Bo said what he said. College players will say what they say; if a professional athlete said that, I’d think less of that athlete. A collegian? Not an issue.

Second, Auburn under Gus Malzahn is like the San Francisco Giants every even year or the St. Louis Cardinals against any non-Giant N.L. team since 2011. Think of something wild and preposterous; it happens in favor of the Tigers. Any championship team needs a mix of luck and skill, but Auburn’s brand of luck has been conspicuous in recent seasons. It’s okay to be blown away by it all, whether you’re Dr. Bo or not. (It’s not okay to view Auburn as a second-rate team, because the Tigers make the most of their breaks — not all teams do.)


Here’s the key point I wish to make about Auburn-Ole Miss, however: I am genuinely surprised that Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge — one of the better broadcast pairs in college football, and a veteran crew at that — made no comment on the portion of the Laquon Treadwell play no one is talking about. Why this aspect of the play has received little to no national mention is beyond me.

Look at the following video, which comes to you courtesy of the SEC football blog Saturday Down South.

Notice what happens at 1:18 and 1:27:

That’s a targeting foul, everyone, or at the very least, a personal foul. More specifically, it’s a targeting (personal foul) penalty committed before the play was over and the ball was dead. That should have been Ole Miss ball, yet that aspect of the play seemed to escape notice across the nation. I realize the combination of the injury and the improbable fumble short of the goal line demanded and deserved our attention, but everyone got to see this replay thanks to the excellent work done by the ESPN production truck in Oxford. Why did that smack to the helmet not come under much greater scrutiny? Does Mike Pereira have to write another column about the SEC to put this before the nation’s eyes?

When contributing to Bloguin’s NBA site, Crossover Chronicles, I wrote a piece during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on how replay needed to be elastic in terms of being able to identify a foul on a play which was initially reviewed to determine who hit a ball out of bounds. This same flexibility needs to be written into the rulebook if a play involving one item (a fumble) unearths a separate missed call on an appreciably relevant issue (targeting penalty).

College football has yet another policy to tweak for the 2015 season.


Question No. 2: As a coach, how do you locate the balance between giving all-out effort on a play and helping players to understand that, sometimes, extra effort leads to crushing turnovers, as it did in Ole Miss-Auburn?

Terry Johnson:

Anyone who’s ever seen me on the tennis court knows that I give 110 % on every single point. I chase down every lob and hustle after every ball.

Most importantly, I never quit fighting until the point is over. Rather than dwell on what the game score or match score is, I only worry about the point in front of me.

I would expect the same out of any football player on my team. When you’re out on the gridiron, play every play as hard as you can. This means:

1) Block until the whistle blows.

2) Pursue the football until the ball carrier is on the ground.

3) Keep fighting for as much yardage as you can.

4) Regardless of what happened on the last play, win the next one.

After Ole Miss lost last night’s game, I saw many people openly question the third rule. In their minds, a player needs to be cognizant of the situation and not fight for “unnecessary yardage” (who the heck uses that terminology?)

I disagree with this point completely. The worst thing a college coach can do is create a situation where his players are terrified to make a mistake. When that happens players start worrying about what’s going to happen if they screw up rather than making plays. This results in slower reaction time and poor execution.

However, this does not mean that players shouldn’t be mindful of a given situation. If it’s in the fourth quarter and the team just needs to run the clock out, it makes sense to tell the players to stay in bounds (see the 1999 Division II Championship Game for details). Similarly, if you’ve got a lead late in the game, it’s important to tell everyone to hold onto the ball with both hands.

Neither of these were the case on Saturday night. Both Wallace and Treadwell fumbled because they were fighting for extra yardage to try to put the Rebels in position to get the “W.” These mistakes, while costly, did not cause Ole Miss to lose the game.

Bart Doan:

You coach all out, every play, give all you have. If bad things happen based on extra effort given, then that’s just part of the cold reality of sport. If you go all out, all the time, 9 times out of 10, you win that moment.

Yeah, stuff happens like a fumble trying for a few extra yards or in a worst case scenario, what happened to Laquon Treadwell. But what’s the alternative? If you’re not trying, you’re dying.

How many times do we see a team not get that extra yard Bo Wallace was trying to reach for? How many times do we see a guy go down inside the five and not get seven? You see it plenty.

What happened for Ole Miss wasn’t anything to abide by. You try to drag folks into the end zone for a game-winning score; you try to reach the ball over when you’re close.  The moment you stop efforting, the moment you’re no longer deserving to win.

Very little about sports really is under your control, and yet, everything is. Officiating, weather, injuries … they are not controllable. The one constant that is controllable — the one constant which makes sports eternally great — is effort.

Always try. If not, you’ve lost no matter what the score says.


If this fumble had occurred on fourth or even third down, it would have been one thing. However, this fumble occurred on second down. Bo Wallace has to take ownership of the fact that he allowed his back to be turned, such that he couldn't see any Auburn defenders. This gave one of them a chance to poke the ball loose before any Wallace body part touched the ground in a pile. The desperate, fervent effort Wallace showed on this play was understandable, but much as players shouldn't try to reach the ball over the goal line unless it's fourth down, they shouldn't work their ways into blind body positions as Wallace did on this second-and-one carry. Effort should indeed be a constant, but it can always be supplemented by situational awareness.

If this fumble had occurred on fourth or even third down, it would have been one thing. However, this fumble occurred on second down. Bo Wallace has to take ownership of the fact that he allowed his back to be turned, such that he couldn’t see any Auburn defenders. This gave one of them a chance to poke the ball loose before any Wallace body part touched the ground in a pile. The desperate, fervent effort Wallace showed on this play was understandable, but much as players shouldn’t try to reach the ball over the goal line unless it’s fourth down, they shouldn’t work their ways into blind body positions as Wallace did on this second-and-one carry. Effort should indeed be a constant, but it can always be supplemented by situational awareness.

Matt Zemek:

The Treadwell injury-cum-fumble is something no coach can prevent. The Bo Wallace fumble is what’s worth talking about here.

Coaches have to teach players some nuances about the balance between effort and ball security, or between effort and team needs.

In endgame situations, a player needs to know when getting seven more yards with a cut toward the middle of the field is more (or less) valuable than getting out of bounds to stop the clock. Players need to know when to keep running for yards or, if in the middle of the field, kneel down so that their team can call a timeout in the final five seconds of a game or half to set up a field goal.

It’s the same with fumbling and ball security.

Players need to be taught to realize when an extra ounce of effort or — on the other hand — protective emphasis is necessary.

What is a general rule of thumb? On first and second down, err on the side of protecting the ball; on third and fourth down, err on the side of risk-taking. There will be nuances attached to these general principles. Sometimes, a third down doesn’t have to be converted (down by two points and in the red zone in the final minute, for instance). Generally, though, early downs merit caution, while late downs allow for more boldness. Fourth down, for instance, is when trying to reach the ball across the goal line is always advisable. You would not teach your players to reach the ball across the goal line on first or second down.

What was the down and distance for the Bo Wallace fumble? Second and one. Dr. Bo made the wrong diagnosis.