TEMPE, Ariz. — When Arizona State’s players and coach Todd Graham arrived for the postgame press conference Saturday night, no one seemed entirely certain what had happened at the end of their 32-30 win over No. 20 Wisconsin.
Regardless, the Sun Devils left the field with a marquee win over the Badgers after a bizarre frenzy that game officials failed to stop, leaving both sides confused but only one happy with the outcome.
ASU’s story: Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave fumbled with the clock winding down, and the Sun Devils jumped on the ball, taking possession and preventing a game-winning field goal attempt.
“The quarterback put the ball on the ground while he was still standing up, ” Graham said. “He put the ball on the ground. You can’t do that. It’s a fumble.”
Senior cornerback Osahon Irabor’s take: “He put the ball down, and they were trying to claim he took a knee. … I don’t know what he was arguing.”
But that’s not what happened. Replays showed that Stave took a knee in the middle of the field with about 16 seconds left and then set the ball down, setting up the potential game-winning field goal from 30 yards. Stave’s kneeldown was quick and not totally clear to everyone on the field, but an official almost immediately whistled the play dead.
ASU’s defense apparently did not believe Stave had kneeled, and when he placed the ball on the ground to be spotted, the Sun Devils jumped it, assuming it was a fumble. Three players pounced on the ball … and they didn’t get up, running about eight seconds off the clock as officials slowly came to take the ball and reset it. By then, only four seconds remained.
And after an official spotted the ball, he held his arm out signaling that it was not ready for play as Wisconsin gestured at the clock frantically. By the time he backed away and signaled for play to continue, the Badgers had no time to spike the ball and stop the clock for their field-goal attempt.
“It was frantic,” Irabor said. “I’ve never seen anything like that in college football. I definitely haven’t played in a game like that. Luck was on our side. I’ll take it. We’ll take it any way we can get it. Sloppy, ugly, beautiful — it doesn’t matter.”
There’s no telling if Wisconsin would have made a game-winning field goal if it had gotten the chance — Badgers kickers are 2 for 4 this season — but it appears certain that it was robbed of the opportunity to do so.
“It is a shame that it went down that way,” coach Gary Andersen said, though he declined to discuss specifics of the play. “If there is 18 seconds left, we teach the kids to spike it, and of course he slipped, but that is what we practice.”