Memphis receiver Calvin Austin III pulled a fast one on Mississippi State and the officiating crew.
Austin returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown to extend Memphis' fourth-quarter lead to 11 points in the Tigers' wild 31-29 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Austin's return came after Mississippi State players thought they had downed the ball inside the Memphis 10. Just watch how it all unfolded. We'll explain after the video.
— American Football (@American_FB) September 18, 2021
The Mississippi State players around the ball thought that the play was simply going to end and officials were going to blow the play dead. And that's what was about to happen. You can see the official on the left side of the screen about to end the play.
But he starts to make the motion that the play is over after Austin picks up the ball. The returning team gets a free chance to return the ball without penalty once the ball has been touched by the kicking team. It's a free pass of sorts. After the kicking team touches the ball and before the play is ended by officials, the returning team can try to advance the ball.
Most players don't attempt to do that. But Austin did, and his awareness was wrongly rewarded with a touchdown because of two mistakes by the officiating crew.
Two players wearing same number on the field
You'll notice that Austin wears No. 4. He wasn't the only Memphis player wearing No. 4 on the field for that play. Defensive lineman Maurice White also wears No. 4 and was on the line for the play. If you watch the video closely at the start you'll see White up by the long snapper. That's illegal — you can't have two players wearing the same number on the field at the same time.
Had officials caught the double-number situation, the return would have been nullified and Memphis would have been penalized. The penalty is five yards for illegal participation and the play would have been redone.
The play should have also been blown dead when the official started to signal that it was over just after Austin picked up the ball. The SEC acknowledged in a statement Saturday night that the crew missed the illegal participation penalty while also saying the play should have been blown dead for an inadvertent signal by the official and Austin's return shouldn't have counted.
Crazy finish to the game
Mississippi State scored less than three minutes after Austin’s return to cut Memphis’ lead to 28-23. The Bulldogs then tried an onside kick and recovered it to keep possession. But the play was reviewed and officials discovered an illegal block on the play. MSU had to try the onside kick again and Memphis recovered.
The Tigers kicked a field goal to push the lead back to eight, but Mississippi State scored 30 seconds later with 1:32 left to cut the lead to two. But the Bulldogs’ two-point conversion failed and Memphis recovered another onside kick to close out a game that many MSU fans think they shouldn't have won.