Smothered. That's kind of what happened this week to one eyebrow-raising play in last Saturday's Alabama-Ole Miss game. Smothered by talk of other Alabama football-related topics, including other memorable plays from the Rebels' 43-37 win over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.
Almost forgotten in that drama-filled, action-packed, roller-coaster of a ride game last Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium is Alabama's first touchdown of the night. It came when Alabama was in dire need of a TD. Just to maintain a pulse in the game.
Ole Miss was up 17-3 and the first half was winding down. A touchdown would put Alabama right back in the game, however, and the Tide had put together a gutsy, 15-play, 66-yard drive to get to the Ole Miss 9. On second-and-goal, quarterback Jake Coker hit Richard Mullaney in the flat. And Mullaney did the rest. And he did it with some flair and moxie.
The 6-foot-3, 208-pound graduate transfer caught the ball around the 9-yard line and sped toward the left corner pylon. When Ole Miss defensive back Kendarius Webster closed in just inside the 5, Mullaney shot skyward, hurdling the would-be tackler and going airborne for those final four yards, tumbling into the end zone.
"We were down 17-3 at the time, and a play needed to be made," Mullaney said this week. "Jake gave me a great pass. The line blocked good. I just knew I needed to get in the end zone in any way. It never really occurred to me to hurdle a guy, but just at the time it was just the instinctive thing to do."
Talk about one igniter of a play. Alabama didn't just get the touchdown it so desperately needed right before halftime. It got it in stirring, awe-inspiring fashion. And from an unlikely source.
Mullaney was born in Valencia, Calif., attended high school in Thousand Oaks and played three years at Oregon State before transferring to Alabama over the summer. He was on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List heading into the 2014 season but suffered a season-ending elbow injury against Utah midway through the season.
No one really knew what to expect from the former Beaver going into this season. His injury-attributed absence from the game since Oct. 16 only added to the mystery. Of course, Bama fans normally don't stay up late on fall Saturday nights in a quest to catch Oregon State football games anyway. Heck, some Bama fans probably didn't even know who No. 16 was when Alabama opened its season in Arlington, Texas, against Wisconsin.
Everyone in the Heart of Dixie knows who Mullaney is now.
In addition to his highlight-reel, hurdling TD late in the first half, Mullaney also had a nice snag of a two-yard dart by Coker late in the game that showed off his excellent hands and again punctuated his knack for stepping up in key situations. That second TD came with 4:33 remaining in the game and pulled the Tide to within one score.
Fans may have been pleasantly surprised by Mullaney's performance last Saturday night, but back in August Alabama head coach Nick Saban was seeing things on the practice field that made him believe the Tide's transfer-in wideout was primed for a big season in Tuscaloosa.
"He's got great hands, a very smart player," Saban said of Mullaney. "He's very instinctive, knows how to get open. He's especially effective in the slot. So he's definitely gonna help us this year. His maturity and experience is something that to a very young inexperienced group has been very welcomed by us and I think our other players."
Through three games now, Mullaney has 10 catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns. And, based on his performance last Saturday, it looks like No. 16 is just getting warmed up in this Alabama offense. And on a squad peppered with some big-time - albeit young - talent, the seasoned Mullaney is the one looking more and more like the Tide's go-to receiver in clutch situations.
One thing's for certain. Whatever happens the rest of the season, the California kid who was playing Pac-12 football this time last year has endeared himself to followers of Alabama football.
A determined, you-can't-stop-me, four-yard leap over a defender when Alabama was in desperate need of six points took care of that.
"Just depends on how they respond to the loss," he said of his players. "That's all I can tell you."
— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)