It looks like Tyrann Mathieu's punt return for a touchdown in the first half of the SEC Championship Game — LSU's first score of the afternoon — isn't going to make a difference in the final result against Georgia. But it's still a cautionary tale.
Just as Mathieu crossed the goal line on a zig-zagging, 62-yard return that cut Georgia's lead to 10-7 in the second quarter, he flipped the ball to an official beginning to signal touchdown. The play happened so quickly that no one noticed the blunder. However, thanks to slo-mo review (and this fine screengrab), it was clear the "Honey Badger" didn't actually get the ball into the end zone.
Officiating guru Mike Pereira, a rules analyst for Fox Sports who often comments on reviewable plays in both college and pro games, tweeted that Mathieu's careless flip actually should have been ruled an illegal forward pass, which would have resulted in a first-and-goal for the LSU offense from the Georgia 5-yard line.
Not to take away from Mathieu's punt return, which was pretty impressive (though not as impressive as last week's game-changer against Arkansas). He does an excellent job of setting up his blockers and following them down the field. His vision is pretty impeccable, as he showed again on a 47-yard return in the third quarter that set up the Tigers' third touchdown.
So why is this a big deal? Because for as good as Mathieu is — and he's plenty good — he also has a pattern of boneheaded decisions, on and off the field. This one didn't cost the Tigers; in fact, because he got away with it, it gave the team a much-needed spark while the offense stumbled through the first half without earning a single first down. But if had been called, it might have destroyed any momentum Mathieu might have created.
And it easily could have been avoided.
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