Alphonzo Tuputala’s goal-line drop conjures up memories of Kaelin Clay’s error
Washington linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala dropped the ball short of the goal line in what looked to be a pick-six, and Utah offensive lineman Michael Mokofisi jumped on it
SEATTLE — As Washington linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala raced into the end zone for a pick-six (so he thought), Utah offensive lineman Michael Mokofisi noticed something.
The football was sitting at the 1-yard line.
Tuputala started to celebrate what would have been a game-changing interception return for a touchdown too early. With no one within 10 yards of him, Tuputala simply dropped the football one yard before the goal line and went into his celebration.
Multiple Washington players — including Elijah Jackson and Dominque Hampton, ran past the football, which was laying at the 1-yard line, to celebrate with Tuputala.
Mokofisi showed tremendous hustle to get back on the play, even though it looked like Tuputala was gone. Utah’s right guard jumped on the ball at the 1-yard-line, taking away an opportunity for Washington’s offense to score.
“Great hustle by Michael Mokofisi,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s 330 pounds and ran the distance and never stopped on the play and had the wherewithal to understand that he had dropped it early. I can’t say enough positive things about his effort on that and his awareness.”
Tuputala’s interception ended what was Utah’s best drive of the second half.
Jaylon Glover had two 10-plus yard runs, and Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes added a 10-yard run himself. Barnes also connected with Devaughn Vele for a 23-yard completion, plus a roughing the passer penalty was tacked on to get the Utes to the red zone.
Barnes’ ensuing pass to tight end Dallen Bentley was off the mark, and as Bentley stuck out a hand to try and get it, he tipped it to Tuputala, who took it 77 yards for what looked like a pick-six.
Utah fans had experienced a similar play in 2014, when wide receiver Kaelin Clay dropped the ball at the 1-yard line while preparing to celebrate.
Clay had what looked to be a 78-yard touchdown to put Utah up 14-0 against No. 4 Oregon, but after dropping the ball short of the goal line, and several Ute players running past it, just like what happened on Saturday, Oregon linebacker Joe Walker picked it up and returned it for a touchdown.
Utah went on to lose that game 51-27.
Thought it would have been poetic for the Utes to return the mistake for a touchdown on Saturday against Washington, Mokofisi did the smart thing, jumping on the ball as soon as he saw it, but who knows what would have happened if a faster player spotted it.
On the ensuing offensive play, Utah ran it straight ahead with Jackson. The left side of Utah’s line was blown up, leading to a safety that made it 35-28, which would be the final score.
“Unfortunately the next play we get tackled in the end zone for a safety, and it’s still better than giving up a touchdown, but it took some of the wind out of our sails when that happened,” Whittingham said.