Everyone watching the Mississippi State victory at Arkansas saw for themselves how junior H-receiver Ross made a remarkable play. There were press box gasps at just the catch itself; then how Ross was able to spin off one Razorback and get past another downfield for a 55-yard touchdown.
Ross himself knew he’d done something big-time in the moment, perhaps even getting some extra aid. “Man, that was all God,” he said in the post-game celebrating.
Within hours it was capping ESPN’s top ten plays of the day. Now three days later, the network’s Sports Science crew has broken the sequence down…and it looks even more Dog-divine upon further technical review.
The pass itself is almost overlook, but quarterback Dak Prescott was under pocket pressure as he waited for Ross to come clear enough. There was no open room for a scramble so Prescott was going to unload or take a sack.
“I ran a crossing route,” Ross said. “And Dak threw it.” Threw high at that, so “I just jumped.”
‘Just’ jumped is under-stating it. Now Ross has hops and if on a firm field and standing set he could surely reach a rim. But the receiver was making contact with Arkansas’ Kevin Richardson by then, and the safety had a hand in Ross’ right side even as the Bulldog raised that same arm for a throw slightly behind him.
“I just jumped, and it happened so quick,” Ross said.
Sports Science calculated the ball was grabbed eight-and-a-half feet above field level…and noted Ross grabbed it more on a side, not just the point which allowed greater grip force. Video breakdown reminded just how surprising it was that the ball didn’t simply carom off Ross’ right hand, gloved or not, given the velocity of Prescott’s throw. The quarterback, by the way, was caught below waist-level as he threw and probably pushed the pass that much harder in anticipation.
Sports Science also figured the grab was made with comparable force to climbers grabbing rock…and their stakes are somewhat higher than just dropping a ball. As it turned out, Richardson ricocheted off Ross and allowed him room to land cleanly and spin to his right into the clear.
For the moment anyway. Because ten yards downfield was Arkansas’ Josh Liddell with an angle. Ross made his own angle, calculated as a 30-degree cut left at the 25-yard line. And he did so with minimal loss of momentum, allowing Ross to get to the end zone unmolested.
Ross’ evening was far from done. That may have been the highlight play but it was another touchdown connection with Prescott that put the Bulldogs ahead with the final margin of 51-50 victory.
Having driven from their 18-yard line, State was on the Razorback 14 with third-and-five and 3:10 left after an Arkansas timeout. During the other team’s called break the Bulldogs talked over how to play it. A strike for the score was called, since there was the certainty that if needed fourth down was there to use too.
Ross and Wilson double-stacked in the slot. “It was a simple double-slant route, me and De’Runnya on the back side,” Ross said. “They were in no-deep and Dak just threw the ball and I just caught it and made a play. I knew it was either me or Bear, whoever Dak saw first.”
The catch in single coverage produced the touchdown at 3:05. Arkansas used most of that to set up a short field goal for the win, which linebacker Beniquez Brown blocked to save State’s victory.
“It almost gave me a heart attack,” Ross said. “It was one of the most crazy games I’ve ever been a part of.”
It was Ross’ greatest game as a Bulldog; ten catches, 154 yards, two touchdowns, and then all the national play-of-the-day recognitions. Ross now goes into the Egg Bowl with 69 catches, second-most in a Bulldog season. He’s just surpassed the Dog whose position he inherited this year, Jameon Lewis (64 catches 2014) and has two games to break the season record of David Smith with 74 receptions in 1970.