In spectator sports, we are often mesmerized by the play that defies the odds. For example, during a 2018 NFL wild-card match-up between Kansas City and Tennessee, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota caught his own deflected pass and ran for a touchdown which contributed to his team’s 22-21 upset of the Chiefs. Catching one’s own pass is a rarity in and of itself. But scoring a touchdown following the self-reception has only happened twice in NFL history. The more likely outcome is a loss of yardage as the initial deflection is a sign one or more linemen were already converging on the quarterback.
I raise this issue because the designated “goat” in Saturday’s Alabama-Auburn game, Crimson Tide place kicker Joseph Bulovas, was actually the victim of a teammate’s split second reaction in hopes of adding his name to the annuls of Alabama football lore. With 2:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, Alabama faced a third down and goal at the Auburn 10 yard line. While Alabama trailed Auburn 48-45, the Tide was poised to win or at least tie the score at the end of a drive that began at their own 37 yard line.
On what proved to be Alabama quarterback Mac Jones’ last offensive play of the game, Jones’ attempted pass was batted back to him by an Auburn lineman. Jones caught the deflection six yards behind the line of scrimmage and ran towards the end zone. However, he was tackled after gaining only four yards, a two yard loss from where the play originated. Coach Nick Saban elected to bring on the field goal unit with hopes of forcing overtime to decide the state’s premiere football power.
For you non-football aficionados, during a field goal attempt the holder is positioned eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. Therefore, with the ball at the Auburn 12 yard line, Bulovas faced a 30 yard attempt as the goal post stands at the back of the 10 yard deep end zone. (12+8+10=30. QED) Bulovas hooked the kick, which struck the left upright, securing Auburn’s three-point lead and eventual victory.
Bulovas hung his head as his teammates tried to console him. In a post-game interview, he apologized for costing the Tide an outside chance to play for another national championship. Kudos to this stand-up young man. But the truth is his kick would have likely succeeded if not for the previous play. The ball was still drifting left when it struck the goal post. But for the two yard differential on Jones’ self-reception, the ball would have cleared the upright and the game would have been tied at 48 points apiece.
Now, I am not going to blame Jones for his decision to catch the deflected pass attempt. As stated above, it was a split second choice. And was due to reaction more than a rational thought process. Any quarterback not named Mac Jones would have done the same thing. You see a football in the air, you catch it and run. And yes, a straighter kick would have nullified any impact of the two-yard loss. But that is true only in hindsight. So let’s give Joseph Bulovas a break. This was a team loss.
In fact, if Alabama had not given up 48 points, I would be writing about something else this morning. If you are still looking for a goat, maybe Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding is the more logical target. Or head coach Nick Saban who hired him last February. But leave it to Nick “It Is Never My Fault” Saban to blame the loss on confusion caused when Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn distracted the Tide with a fourth and seven fake offensive call which resulted in an Alabama penalty for too many players on the field. Hopefully, next time Coach Saban will look to his players like Joseph Bulovas for a role model.
For what it’s worth.