Chuck Zodda has looked at crazy kickoff and punt attempts before. He has looked at botched fake punts. But there is nothing that tops the craziness of the Miami 8-lateral kickoff return between the Duke Blue Devils and Miami Hurricanes on Halloween night.
Having scored a touchdown and two-point conversion with six seconds left, the Blue Devils led 27-24, and were on the verge of a comeback victory against a resurgent Hurricanes team. All that was left was to squib the ball downfield, stop the kickoff return, and possibly bat down a Hail Mary pass in or near the end zone.
We then witnessed a kickoff return so unbelievable, and officiating so unbelievably bad that the Atlantic Coast Conference found four places where the officiating crew made mistakes in the final play, and promptly suspended the crew for two ACC games.
Here Is How It Unfolded
Duke kicker Ross Martin (#35) strikes a squib kick down the middle that bounces downfield:
Dallas Crawford (#25) scoops up the bouncing ball. Seeing four Duke defenders bearing down on him, he turns quickly to his left and throws back across the field to Corn Elder (#29) outside the left numbers:
This represents and early opportunity for the Hurricanes, as Duke had to track back across the field in order to chase Elder, needing to cover a significant amount of distance in the process. However, the Duke defenders quickly close the gap:
Duke gets two defenders immediately in front of Elder at the Miami 30-yard line, preventing him from getting upfield, and forcing him to work backwards. If you think this looks like a combination of rugby and soccer at this point, you are not mistaken.
Elder eventually runs out of room, and after cutting back to the center of the field, flips the ball underhand to no one, with it magically bouncing into the hands of Jaquan Johnson (#4):
The Blue Devils get outside leverage on Johnson, forcing him to the left as he looks for room. There are three additional Duke defenders in this direction, with freshman Ben Humphrey (#34) just inside the left hash. Johnson weaves left, eventually running out of room and pitching the ball back to Mark Walton (#1):
Highlighted in red is Walton with his knee on the ground as Alonso Saxton (#21) drags him to the ground. Walton’s right knee is clearly down, and the play should have been blown dead at this point. It also should have been marked down immediately upon review. Unfortunately for the Duke, the now-suspended officials were unable to spot this, despite nearly every person on Twitter being unequivocally aware of it within two minutes of it happening, so the play goes on.
Tyre Brady (#82) ends up with the ball after the Walton pitch:
Crawford receives the ball for the second time on the play as well, catching it at his 3-yard line just inside the numbers. This is where the play begins to break down for Duke. Circled in blue are five Blue Devils between the hash marks as they start to become more vertically-oriented, instead of staying spread horizontally to force the ball from side to side. This would soon prove to be their undoing:
Crawford advances the ball to the Miami 15-yard line before running into traffic and looking to throw back to his left. Duke now has eight players on his side of the field (blue circles), and they are staggered vertically, creating seams the Hurricanes can exploit. While this play should have been over nearly fifteen seconds earlier, and there is a block in the back occurring at the 17-yard line next to the near hash, the Blue Devils have lost their positional discipline at this point:
Two Blue Devils are taken out by Elder’s blockers and the returner cuts back against the grain as he spots Shaquille Powell (#28), coming over to attempt a tackle for Duke. Elder, gets past the Duke running back and has a clear path to the end zone.
Make no mistake about it, this is a play that should have not only been over when Walton’s knee touched the ground, but also had two blocks in the back, one of which had a flag picked up after a conference of the officials. There is no way this play should have stood, and the ACC should be embarrassed for their officiating unit instead of posting a link to the highlight on the conference Twitter account.
Having said that, Miami executed perfectly to keep the play alive and played to the whistle, taking advantage of the officials’ miscues and the eventual breakdown by the Duke coverage unit.
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Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, the humanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.
All video and images courtesy ESPN.