Isaac Nauta made a big mistake.
It was the first quarter of Georgia’s 38-12 win over Tennessee on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. Georgia was driving, with the ball on Tennessee's 31-yard line. On third-and-9, quarterback Jake Fromm took the snap and prepared to throw.
Then, Nauta, a junior tight end, missed his tackle, as Tennessee linebacker Darrell Taylor was able to blow past him towards Fromm. Taylor made his way over to Fromm, stripping the ball from him and forcing a sack.
“I actually didn’t do a good enough job in pass protection, and I tried to run them by the quarterback,” Nauta said.
From there, an unexpected series of events unfolded. As soon as Fromm fumbled the ball, it bounced on the ground, allowing Nauta to scoop it up. He started running with the ball, moving toward the right side of the field. He ran it all the way down the field, breaking a tackle and running 31 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
“It popped into my hands there, and I just started running with it,” Nauta said. “It went from a very sick feeling to a very good feeling there pretty quick.”
Nauta knew right away based on the play that if he ran towards the sideline, there would be room to run, and sure enough, there was. The Georgia wide receivers helped out by making blocks downfield to clear a path for him.
For Fromm, the play was important, as Georgia ultimately benefited from his fumble.
“We got lucky on that one,” Fromm said. “I’m really thankful for that play, but we were kind of joking when we came off the sideline like ‘Any way we can do it, we do it.’”
The touchdown was an important one. It got Georgia on the board and made it a 7-0 game. Georgia did not score another touchdown until toward the end of the second quarter, as the offense struggled for much of the first half. But thanks to Nauta scooping the ball up, the Bulldogs were able to maintain a commanding lead throughout the first half.
“That’s probably the best result that’s come from a missed assignment,” Nauta said.
Despite the favorable result, head coach Kirby Smart said he was not too happy with Nauta’s mistake in pass protection that originally caused the play to unfold the way it did. Had the ball not bounced his way, the play could have easily resulted in a turnover that changed the game.
“You’ve got to block the guy,” Smart said. “I don’t live on luck, and there was a lot of luck involved in that play.”
For that reason, when the Bulldogs review the film from the game next week, Nauta said he knows he can expect to get some criticism for missing his assignment nonetheless.
“I can tell you exactly what’s gonna happen,” Nauta said. “I’m gonna get ripped for that. But at least, you know, we came out with points.”