Common sense says every spiked ball in college football (and any other level of football) is intentional grounding. There are no eligible receivers in the immediate area and the ball does not cross the line of scrimmage.
There is, however, an exception for spiked passes, exceptions instituted to allow teams to clock the ball. At least one spike occurs in most college football games, as it did in the final minute of Auburn’s eventual win over Arkansas on Saturday. What also occurred was a fumbled snap prior to a spike attempt, which led to the officials invoking a little-known and rarely used rule.
With 30 seconds remaining and Auburn trailing by one point, Bo Nix fumbled a running-clock snap. He recovered the fumble and spiked it (backward, which we’ll get to later). The referees correctly invoked a rule prohibiting a spike after a fumble. Under Rule 7, Section 3, Article 2 of the NCAA FBS rulebook, it states a forward pass is illegal if “the passer to conserve time throws the ball directly to the ground (1) after the ball has already touched the ground; or (2) not immediately after controlling the ball.”
Nix did the former; he spiked the ball after the ball already touched the ground on the botched snap. Auburn was penalized 10 years at the spot of the foul and a loss of down. And with a running clock, they also lost 10 seconds, forcing them to attempt a game-winning 39-yard field goal as the officials started the clock (at 18 seconds) at the time the ball was spotted. The officials nailed that part of it. They didn’t however, nail the entire play and it cost Arkansas their second straight SEC win.
Nix clearly spiked the ball backward. He throws it nearly one full yard backward, prompting several players to pursue the potentially live ball. Ultimately, Arkansas defensive back Joe Foucha recovered the ball, though the play was ruled dead seconds earlier. Was it a clear recovery? Kind of. Arkansas clearly recovered it…but well after the officials stopped the play.
Under Rule 2, Section 19, Article 1, it states, “A pass is forward if the ball first strikes the ground, a player, an official or anything else beyond the spot where the ball is released. All other passes are backward passes. When in question a pass thrown in or behind the neutral zone is forward rather than a backward pass.”
That’s not debatable. That was a backward pass and the officials should’ve let an already bizarre play get more bizarre by swallowing their whistles. And Arkansas should have two straight SEC wins.