The last place a running back wants to be is at the bottom of the pile.
You know, those scrums most often found on short-yardage situations, at the goal line or anywhere the ball pops loose.
Oregon State running back Storm Woods found himself under a mass of humanity in the Arizona game.
Woods had the ball when he went into the pile. Then it started.
Fingers scratching at his throat and eyes.
His finger bent backward.
By the time the players were peeled off, the Wildcats had the ball.
“You try to hold on but with all that going around and you’ve got 300-pounders on you and the whole team on you trying to fight for it, it’s tough to keep the ball,” Woods said. “So I lost it.”
A game within the game is played under the pile.
Most of it remains unseen by the officials and teams on the sidelines, much less the fans in the stands.
Even replays can’t catch most of the action.
“From watching TV and then being in one, you don’t really get to see what’s under the pile,” Woods said.
The ball can change hands several times before an official is able to dig down deep enough to make the call.
A play that is technically over can go on for several seconds, sometimes minutes.
“Everybody thinks once the whistle is blown (the play ends),” offensive tackle Colin Kelly said. “But what the refs can’t see is they just keep fighting and fighting.”
A change in possession can impact the game, so players aren’t shy when they go for the ball.
“I just try to do whatever I can to get the ball,” linebacker Michael Doctor said. “If I’ve got to grab your arm off, I do whatever I’ve got to do to get the ball.
“You’re just trying to rip the ball out as fast as you can. If you get to the ball the fastest, you’re most likely going to be the one with the ball.”
Rules go out the window.
If a player thinks he can get the ball with an eye gouge or a pinch, he’ll try it.
Just about every move in the book has been attempted at one point or another.
“I’ve known that, as weird as it seems, people just grab you in your crotch area, some of the running backs tell me,” Kelly said. “If they do that, you’re bound to let go of the ball a little bit.”
The combination of getting poked, prodded, pulled and punched can set off an extra adrenaline surge.
Tempers often flare.
“People get angry, especially when you’re going for the ball control,” defensive end Dylan Wynn said. “So you get a lot of shoving around the pile and in the pile you get people start swinging on each other and stuff.”
Wynn has been on both ends of the action. He recovered five fumbles last season and one so far this year.
He said he particularly dislikes it when an opposing player tries to pull him off the pile.
But gasping for air under hundreds of pounds of football players is worse.
“Even more aggravating than that is when you get the big ol’ linemen lying on top of you and you’ve got two or three of these over 300-pound guys and it kind of gets hard to breathe,” he said.
Trash talk is common.
There are claims to the ball made and woofing between players.
Sometimes they’ll joke around with each other.
“I remember one game, one guy was like, ‘How’s everyone doing?’ And just started a conversation because we were down there for a little bit,” Wynn said. “I thought that was kind of funny.”