AUBURN, Ala. — Mississippi State senior defensive back Charles Mitchell was standing right next to the football and was convinced his team has stopped Auburn University on fourth down.
The senior captain was jubilant when he saw what looked like daylight between the football and the first-down marker.
Then he saw the official point in Auburn”s direction to signal a first down.
“They didn”t get it but they gave it to them,” Mitchell said. “Once they make that call, ain”t nothing we can say to change it. A lot of things you can”t control, and the refs are one of them.”
With 1 minute, 31 seconds left in the third quarter, Auburn tailback Michael Dyer took a wildcat formation handoff up the middle on fourth and-1. He lowered his head and his body twisted as he collided with a tackler, making it unclear if he had reached the first-down marker.
The officials immediately called for a measurement and referee Matt Moore even leaned down to get a shot of the football before signaling for a first down. SEC Network replays showed the measurement several time on the broadcast, suggesting there could be daylight between the football and the yard marker.
Six plays later, Auburn scored on a pass from quarterback Barrett Trotter to tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen that gave the Tigers a 41-27 lead with 14 minutes left in the game.
Twitter screenshots of the television replays minutes after the play showed Auburn could have been inches short.
“I was on the side of the ball and there was definitely daylight (in between the ball and the marker),” Mitchell said. “They didn”t make it.”
A review of the spot of the ball and the measurement wasn”t called for in the replay booth, and MSU was without a challenge after losing it in the first half when it contested a 4-yard touchdown run by Dyer in the second quarter. Since the Dyer touchdown call was upheld, MSU was unable
to challenge the spot of the ball on the fourth-down call. Auburn wasted no time running a draw play to tailback Tre Mason for no gain.
“Our players came off and said it was short,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “We”re going to think they didn”t make it. There is the game of inches, I guess.”
Southeastern Conference coordinator of football officials Steve Shaw defended the call on the field in a one-line statement minutes after Auburn”s 41-34 victory.
“When the officiating crew put the first-down stake in its final position, the nose of the football was touching the stake making it a first down,” Shaw said.
According to SEC rules, “forward progress with respect to a first down” is a reviewable play from the replay booth. Last season, only 37 of 119 reviewed plays (31 percent) were overturned using the replay system.
The replay booth was used four times in the game, including after the final run of the game when MSU quarterback Chris Relf was stopped inches short of reaching the goal line. Each play that was reviewed by officials upstairs upheld the call on the field.
“I imagine they got (the final review) right,” Mullen said. “They were in the right position and on those types of plays they are usually unreviewable. Somebody should put a microchip in the ball to make sure. I”m sure one day we will have that technology.”
MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said after the game he hadn”t heard from SEC officials, and didn”t anticipate being contacted about the play.