You knew it would be a strange game when the first play from scrimmage — which, being a direct snap to Lamar Jackson, Louisville’s No. 2 quarterback this day, was itself strange — became an interception by Tray Matthews, playing his first game for Auburn. On Nov. 16, 2013, Matthews was positioned to intercept the fourth-down pass flung by Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and clinch a famous comeback victory for Georgia. Instead … well, you know the “instead.”
The Bulldog who bumped Matthews and deflected the ball into the hands of Ricardo Louis was Josh Harvey-Clemons, who likewise has a new address. He plays for Louisville, and darned if he didn’t intercept an Auburn pass in his first quarter as a Cardinal. He would intercept another in his second quarter as a Cardinal.
There’s a reason Georgia suffered Harvey-Clemons’ excesses for two seasons: He’s a really good player. He’s also, shall we say, an excessive player. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the fourth quarter Saturday. He gets that a lot.
Amid all this, the aforementioned Louis — still a Tiger — caught a touchdown pass, this one not deflected, in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, which should have been renamed Old Home Week. Except that Auburn’s victory over Louisville featured a slew of famous faces in new homes.
Bobby Petrino used to coach the Falcons. That didn’t last long. Then he coached Arkansas, which lasted until he crashed his motorcycle while accompanied by a woman who wasn’t Mrs. Petrino. He’s back at Louisville after a rehab stint at Western Kentucky. In 2002, Petrino was Auburn’s offensive coordinator. In November 2003, he nearly became its head coach. Small world, huh?
Wait. It gets smaller. Petrino’s defensive coordinator is Todd Grantham, who spent four seasons at Georgia and got a fat raise to leave. Auburn’s defensive coordinator is Will Muschamp, who played for Georgia under Ray Goff and who went 1-3 against his alma mater as Florida’s head coach.
As for the game itself: It was weird, too. Louisville, in its second year as an ACC member, outgained Auburn, ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and favored by some to win the SEC, by 78 yards but never led and lost 31-24. But enough about that. Let’s skip to the ending.
Louisville drew within seven points inside the final three minutes. With one timeout left, Petrino called for an onside kick. It failed. Then everything went extra crazy.
Auburn appeared to have clinched the game with a first down, but a holding call negated the gain. The Tigers faced third-and-12 with 52 seconds remaining and the clock halted, whereupon Petrino called his final timeout. The reaction on the telecast and across the World Wide Web was immediate: Why call your final timeout with the clock stopped?
Said Petrino: “They (meaning the refs) would have started it right away (meaning after the penalty). … I asked the official that on the sideline. I said, ‘Now because he’s tackled and it was a run play, the clock starts immediately?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’”
That’s different from the NFL rule. Adding to the confusion was that the referee announced there would be “no run-off.” But a 10-second runoff differs from letting the clock restart.
Not many lay people knew the college rule. (I didn’t until I heard Clay Travis of Fox Sports explain it.) The clock would have restarted. Auburn would have had 25 seconds — because of the stoppage — to snap the ball on third-and-12, which would have left 20-plus seconds for Louisville to call its timeout. By calling it at 52 seconds, Petrino let the Tigers run the ball and then get the benefit of a full 40 seconds on the playclock.
As it happened, the clock ran down to three seconds. Rather than punting, Auburn had Jeremy Johnson throw the ball downfield. (Though why he didn’t sling it out of bounds is a mystery.)
In sum, Petrino’s dunce move wasn’t quite as dunce-ical as it seemed. He cost his team 20 seconds, but he hadn’t returned to the building where he once worked and claimed the crown as king of clock-mangling. That still belongs to Mike Smith.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com