There were multiple officiating mistakes made on Memphis' 94-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Tigers' 31-29 win over Mississippi State, the SEC said in a statement Saturday night.
With 5:58 left, Mississippi State punted the ball from its own 47-yard line. The ball went past Memphis returner Calvin Austin III, and a Mississippi State player knocked the ball back into the field of play at the goal line. As the ball was lying on the turf, Austin picked up the ball and headed down the right sideline, the speedster outrunning the surprised Bulldogs defenders to give Memphis a 28-17 lead.
In a tweet, the SEC said the punt return should have been reviewed after the back judge, part of an SEC officiating crew, had signaled to stop the clock when the punted ball stopped moving. The signal apparently went unseen.
September 19, 2021
"I mean, the ball's live," Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said. "Just because you touch it, they usually whistle it. You know. We've got to pick it up and hand it to the ref."
Leach, after being told about the back judge apparently whistling the play dead, said the game film would be reviewed.
For Austin's part, he was well aware of the situation, saying he and his father talk about such situations and Memphis coaches have emphasized it also.
"As soon as I saw the dude try to catch it and he dropped it and I was looking and waiting to see if someone was going to hand it to the officials," Austin said, adding, "They touched it and let it be. As soon as I saw that, I sprinted to the ball and then I could just get it and run with it."
The touchdown was one of three scored by Austin in the second half Saturday.
The SEC statement also said that two Memphis players were wearing No. 4 during the play, which should have resulted in a 5-yard penalty on the Tigers.
In the end, Memphis escaped with the victory thanks to a 51-yard field goal from Tigers kicker Joe Doyle with 2:02 left. A two-play drive from Mississippi State after the field goal was capped by a 36-yard touchdown from quarterback Will Rogers to Makai Polk. But Rogers' run for the two-point conversion failed, preserving the Memphis victory.
The loss was Mississippi State's first on the season (2-1) and kept Memphis undefeated at 3-0 as it heads into American Athletic Conference play.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.