Rabalais: Beckham's field goal return shakes up NCAA computers

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is all smiles while leaving the field after the second half Saturday in Tiger Stadium for LSU's home opener. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is all smiles while leaving the field after the second half Saturday in Tiger Stadium for LSU's home opener.

Though he’d never practiced it, Odell Beckham Jr. knew what to do Saturday night when Ty Long’s kick fell short.

Figuring out what to call what he did with the ball after he caught it and returned it 109 yards (officially 100 yards, but more on that later) is another matter entirely.

“After the kick return,” Beckham said Monday, “well, I don’t know whether to call it a kick return or a punt return.”

That’s OK, OBJ.

The NCAA didn’t know what to do about the play, either.

It was fitting that Beckham’s brilliant night made computers from Tiger Stadium to Indianapolis go “TILT!”

He finished with 331 all-purpose yards, third-most in a game in LSU history and tied for the eighth most in Southeastern Conference annals.

But when the stat program LSU and virtually every school uses spit out the numbers after the Tigers’ 56-17 victory, it listed Beckham with 231 all-purpose yards.

The problem? There was no place in the program to input a 100-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown. It has columns for rushing yards, receiving yards, punt, kickoff and interception returns, but no place for missed field goal returns.

So when the NCAA compiled its Division I football statistics Sunday, it went with the program — or rather, the inadequate program. It listed Beckham with 251.5 all-purpose yards per game. That put him No. 2 in the country behind — perfectly adding insult to injury — Christion Jones of Alabama, who had 256 all-purpose yards Aug. 31 against Virginia Tech.

LSU assistant sports information director Bill Martin was not going to let that stand. So he contacted the NCAA and explained the situation. By Monday, the NCAA added a column to all-purpose yardage called “MiscYds.” Beckham, with a sealing block from Martin, got his 100 yards in what should be called the Beckham Column.

SEC media relations coordinator Herb Vincent — who just recently went there from LSU — said the conference will also comply once the stat program (which will have to be updated for every school in the country that uses it, according to Martin) is fixed.

Now Beckham is officially the NCAA’s all-purpose yardage leader with 301.5 yards per game. It would and perhaps should be more, but unlike the NFL, which counts plays from beyond the goal line, the NCAA recognizes no play as longer than 100 yards.

Funny thing is, Beckham was sent back there with a mind to being the last line of defense against a fake or to try to knock the ball down if it looked like it was just going to nudge over the crossbar. That’s legal, if not exactly sporting, considering LSU led 49-17 at the time.

“I was hoping it would go just above the crossbar so I could jump up and block it,” Beckham said. “But it ended up working out for the better.”

What is still a bit of a mystery is when was the last time someone returned a missed field goal for a touchdown in a college game.

Again, LSU and the intrepid Martin sent out messages to sports information departments all across the country asking if someone at their school had done it (no one at LSU apparently ever had). As of Monday afternoon, the most recent reply was from Clemson, whose Richie Luzzi ran one back eight yards deep in his end zone against Georgia in 1968.

Advocate sportswriter Les East contributed to this column.