Officials help Auburn survive Arkansas upset bid with controversial ruling

Saturday’s Auburn-Arkansas game ended in controversy, thanks to what appeared to be a botched ruling by officials.

The bungled call occurred with less than a minute remaining in the game, with Auburn trailing by a point and at the Arkansas 19 as it was driving for a go-ahead field goal. Sophomore quarterback Bo Nix bobbled the snap on what was going to be a spike; because of that, when he actually did spike the ball, the ball went backward. The spike should have been ruled a fumble and a live ball (with a Razorbacks defender in prime position to recover).

Instead, officials whistled the play dead after the spike and penalized Nix for intentional grounding. The result was a 3-yard loss, a loss of down (to fourth down), a 10-second runoff and a running clock. Auburn could have let the clock run all the way down to two or three seconds, then snap the ball and finish the game without giving Arkansas a chance to get the ball back (the Razorbacks would have had roughly 25 seconds to work with had the spike worked as intended).

Auburn instead kicked the eventual game-winning field goal with seven seconds remaining, leaving enough time for one more Arkansas offensive possession. The Razorbacks only had enough time to run one play, which went for 16 yards. Auburn won 30-28.

After the game, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said officials acknowledged that Nix’s spike was a fumble.

“They just said it was a fumble, a backward pass, but they blew the whistle before we recovered the ball so they couldn’t review it, I guess. That’s the explanation I got,” Pittman said on his postgame radio show.

The SEC had not commented on the play as of Saturday evening.

The record will show Auburn as a 2-1 team after Saturday’s game and Arkansas as a 1-2 team. But those records could very well have been reversed had the referee not been so quick to call the play dead.

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