Ultimately, Anders Carlson made the most of his second chance, hitting a 39-yard field goal with 7 seconds left to lift the 13th-ranked Tigers to a 30-28 victory over Arkansas on a rainy, blustery Saturday.
The Tigers (2-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) narrowly avoided a second straight loss, with drama and uncertainty continuing right up to that winning kick.
Facing third and 1, Bo Nix couldn’t handle the snap, picked it up and spiked the ball — appearing slightly behind him — to draw an intentional grounding flag. The play was reviewed and upheld.
“I just told them how you win a lot of times is so important,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “First of all, SEC wins are extremely hard. I’ll keep saying it with this year a 10-game SEC schedule, you’ve already seen it around our league.
“You can’t take anything for granted. You have to play your good football.”
Auburn avoided the fate of two other SEC teams from earlier in the day after blowing a 17-0 lead. No. 21 Texas A&M beat No. 4 Florida 41-38, and Missouri knocked off No. 17 LSU 45-41.
Carlson delivered after missing a 34-yard field goal wide right with 2:38 left. Auburn’s defense had forced a three-and-out, and the Tigers got the ball back at the 45 of the Razorbacks, who botched their first PAT and failed on two subsequent 2-point conversion attempts.
But the kick was made possible by the ruling on that spike. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman pleaded with the officials on the sideline after a brief scramble for the ball.
“I was told it wasn’t a backward pass,” Pittman said. “The ball went backwards 6 yards. I saw a fumble and a spike that went backwards 6 yards.”
The SEC issued an explanation of the ruling on Twitter Saturday night, confirming that replay showed the pass went 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,” the statement said. It said reversal of the ruling would have required both that it was deemed a backward pass and that there was “immediate clear recovery” of the ball.
Arkansas tried a couple of laterals after a short catch that didn’t go far on the final play. The Razorbacks were aiming for a second straight victory against a ranked team after last week’s win over then-No. 16 Mississippi State snapped a 20-game SEC skid.
The Tigers survived a week after losing 27-6 to No. 3 Georgia. Freshman Tank Bigsby ran for 146 yards, and Anthony Schwartz gained 100 yards on 10 catches with a touchdown.
Then it came down to Carlson’s mulligan.
“I just kind of gave him that look and gave him a fist bump,” Malzahn said.
Feleipe Franks, who passed for 318 yards and four touchdowns, made two huge plays to help Arkansas to a 28-27 lead with 5:29 left.
First, he hit Mike Woods for an 11-yard gain on fourth down. The next play he launched a 30-yard touchdown pass to De’Vion Warren. Trelon Smith ran for 81 yards and had 78 yards receiving.
As for the last spike play, Nix was asked if he thought the spike was in front of him. “Yes, I thought so,” he said.
Arkansas defensive back Jalen Catalon disagreed.
“We thought it was a fumble, but sometimes the game doesn’t bounce your way,” Catalon said. “In that scenario, that’s what it was. We’ve just got to swallow one. Tough one to swallow, but we’ve got to swallow it.”