ATHENS — The irony was not lost on Isaac Nauta.
Surrounded by reporters after No. 2 Georgia’s 38-12 win over Tennessee Saturday, Nauta was more amused and somewhat embarrassed about the events that led to his 40-yard scoop-and-score touchdown in the first quarter.
“It’s probably going to be a minus on the old grade sheet because their defensive end busted me in protection,” Nauta said with a laugh. “I definitely have to clean that up before next week. But I’m just glad something positive came out of it and it didn’t result in a turnover.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart corroborated Nauta’s grade prediction.
“You know, you’ve got to block the guy,” Smart said after the game. “So, I don’t live on luck, and there was a lot of luck on that play.”
Nevertheless, it was one of the most exciting and unusual plays one will ever see, a disaster turned into a resounding success in an instant.
The novelty was recognized by Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, who was still incredulous about it after the game.
“I ain’t seen in my life, you hit the quarterback, he fumbles on third down and the tight end scoops it up and runs 30 yards for a touchdown,” Pruitt said. “That’s a first for me.”
It was a first for Nauta as well. He has scored many touchdowns in college even more in high school, but never on a fumble return. Technically he ran 40 yards for the score, but officially he’s credited with only 31 as it’s it was advanced fumble on an offensive play, so it’s measured from the line of scrimmage.
Nauta didn’t care. He explained what happened as he saw it.
“The defensive end was rushing real far up field and I was trying to run him by and was hoping Jake would step up in the pocket,” Nauta said. “I saw him reach out and grab the ball. Next thing you know the ball pop’s up and I caught it and I just took off with it.”
The fumble-return TD continued an off trend for the Bulldogs. They have now opened three straight games with touchdowns off fumbles.
Nauta showed great recognition of the situation and even better broken-field running ability. After gathering in the ball, he immediately identified a path to the end zone and then outran the Tennessee pursuit down the right sideline to the pylon in the East end zone. Along the way he got a great block from Georgia’ wideout Jeremiah Holloman that kept his path clear.
“We’re going to have to check my GPS numbers there and see what happened,” Nauta said. “It felt like I had a trailer attached to the back of me or something but I got there.”
Fromm still wasn’t sure what happened.
“It was like, what the heck is going on?” he said. “I still can’t believe it. When I came to the sideline I had to look up at the board to see what the heck happened. So, really thankful the ball fell that way.”
Nauta was, too. He was certainly happy to score a touchdown on the play but, in the moment, he was glad just to retrieve the football seeing how it being loose was his fault.
But he was proud of the run.
“That’s the longest rush I’ve ever had,” he said. “They might need to let me get the ball a little more out of the backfield.
“Not really. But I’ve never seen anything like that before and it was kind of fun to be part of something like that. That was unbelievable.”