Sam Pittman said he was told Auburn had not thrown a backwards pass – which would have been a fumble.
That isn’t what Pittman said he saw, however.
“I was told it wasn’t a backwards pass,” Pittman told reporters in his post-game press conference, before he was asked what he saw on the play.
“Same thing you did,” Pittman said to the reporter. “The ball went backwards six yards. I saw a fumble and a spike that went backwards six yards.”
Per Matt Jones of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Pittman said on his post-game radio show that officials had told Pittman “it was a fumble, a backwards pass, but they blew the whistle before we recovered the ball.”
The Southeastern Conference later clarified that Tigers quarterback Bo Nix had, indeed, spiked the ball behind his own foot — and therefore had fired a fumble and not an incomplete pass into the ground.
Ultimately, a whistle blown too soon became a blown call that robbed Pittman’s Arkansas team of what would have been its second-straight SEC road win in Pittman’s first year calling the Hogs.
Nix’s botched snap followed by the spike-turned-fumble-turned-incomplete-pass unfolded with just 30 seconds left in regulation and as the Razorbacks clutched a 28-27 lead. The Tigers kicked a field goal with less than 10 seconds to win, 30-28.
“During the 3rd down play at :30 in the 4th quarter, the officials on the field sounded their whistles and blew the play dead as they deemed the passer illegally grounded the ball to conserve time as governed by Rule 7-3-2-F,” the SEC’s Officiating account tweeted at 10:35 p.m., almost 3 hours after the game had ended at 7:42.
“During the subsequent replay review, there is conclusive video evidence that the pass was backwards. However, because recovery of the football was not clearly made in the immediate continuing football action, the ruling on the field was determined to stand under Rule 12-3-2-e-1. Both the determination of a backward pass and the immediate clear recovery are required to reverse the ruling on the field under Rule 12-3-2-e-1.”
The SEC account underlined immediate twice to emphasize how the officiating crew of referee Jason Autrey and umpire Walt Hill had interpreted the play.
Though officials blew dead the play, video replay showed clearly that Arkansas defender Joe Foucha immediately charged past the line of scrimmage and made a diving attempt to recover Nix’s spiked toss. Tigers running back D.J. Williams also lunged for the loose ball.