Football is a fast-paced game. But sometimes it’s worth delaying the action if it means getting the right call.
Replay officials were once again the focus on Saturday, with one clear example of how an official made the right call and another that deserved a second look.
Let’s start with the good …
During the second quarter of the high-scoring West Virginia vs. Texas matchup shown on FOX (won by West Virginia, 48-45), Texas QB David Ash threw a completion to Marquise Goodwin for 8 yards before Goodwin was tackled. The football appeared to squirt out from the receiver’s grip before going to the ground, but he was ruled down even though WVU’s Isaiah Bruce jumped on the ball in the immediate continuing action after the ruling and claimed it his.
In football’s dark ages, that would’ve been it — an official calls it over and you move on. However, now we have the benefit of instant replay, and an alert replay official looked at the play and realized it was indeed a fumble with a clear recovery by Bruce. West Virginia wasn’t able to capitalize on that specific ruling, going three-and-out, but the right call was made so there were no questions as to whether or not a bad call affected the outcome of the matchup.
The system is not always perfect though, and sometimes the game moves on despite there being an incorrect call on the field at a crucial point.
In the first game of the FOX doubleheader between Arizona and Stanford, Arizona’s Matt Scott was ruled to have thrown an incomplete pass with 6:40 left in the first half and the game tied 7-7.
However, had there been a second look, it would have revealed that Scott was hit by outside linebacker Trent Murphy, leading to a fumble that was recovered by Stanford’s Ben Gardner, not an incomplete pass.
It’s up to the replay official to stop the game and correct this call. It was clear to us here in the FOX command center that the ball was loose before Scott’s hand started moving forward. We could see that from the live shot, and that’s where the replay official failed. He should be looking at every play when there is anything that resembles a ball coming loose, and he has the ability to run the live shot back and forth immediately. He does not have to wait for a replay.
The rule is clear that even though a forward pass was ruled, you can review through that ruling and give the ball to the team that clearly recovered in the immediate action after the fumble. Stanford’s clear recovery was in that immediate action and the Cardinal should have been awarded the ball.
The play proved a big break for Arizona that should not have happened and led to a field goal, which proved to be crucial in the waning minutes, as Stanford had to rally back to force overtime before eventually winning.
Replay officials are under a lot of pressure as they have to look at every play and be ready to react quickly. But even in the fast-paced world that is football, sometimes it is worth taking that extra second if it means making sure the call on the field is correct.
Now let’s take a look at a few more plays that caught my eye during Week 6 of the college football season:
THE GAME: Illinois vs. Wisconsin
THE SITUATION: Wisconsin has the ball, second-and-11 at the Illinois 26-yard line with 8:06 remaining in the third quarter. The game is tied 7-7.
THE PLAY: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave throws a complete pass to Derek Watt. Illinois’ Terry Hawthorne hits Watt after the completion and gets hurt, but Hawthorne gets flagged on a personal foul for hitting a defenseless receiver.
MY TAKE: There’s nothing worse than seeing a player carted off the field and put into an ambulance. On top of that, Hawthorne got hit with a 15-yard penalty for a hit on a defenseless player. I don’t think it was a foul because it appeared to me contact was shoulder-to-shoulder and there really wasn’t any demonstrative launch.
The one thing it does point out, however, is that all of football is not only concerned with the player that gets hit, but also with the player that does the hitting. My thoughts are with Hawthorne and for a full recovery. The 15 yards seems insignificant at this point, but all of football must continue to try to protect both offensive and defensive players.
THE GAME: LSU vs. Florida
THE SITUATION: LSU has the ball, third-and-7 on its own 21-yard line with 4:27 left in the third quarter. Florida leads 7-6.
THE PLAY: LSU QB Zach Mettenberger throws a completion to wide receiver Odell Beckham, who then adds 56 yards after the catch. Florida’s Matt Elam makes the tackle near the sideline and the ball pops out, but Beckham is ruled out of bounds. Following instant replay, a fumble is ruled.
MY TAKE: This was a huge play in this game. Even though the runner was ruled out of bounds, it is reviewable as to whether he was on the sideline before fumbling — or if he was out of bounds at all. The NCAA football casebook describes the play perfectly — play No. 72 that describes an official ruling when a runner steps out of bounds before losing the ball.
With replays showing Beckham did not step out of bounds, the ruling is that it’s a reviewable play and it’s reversed to a fumble with a clear recovery and the defense gets the ball. It’s amazing how important instant replay has become in the game of football.
THE GAME: West Virginia vs. Texas
THE SITUATION: WVU has the ball, third-and-14 on its own 9-yard line with 7:47 left in the second quarter. WVU leads 21-14.
THE PLAY: Mountaineers QB Geno Smith drops back in the pocket and gets sacked by Alex Okafor, causing a fumble. Texas’ Jackson Jeffcoat recovers the fumble near the end zone for a touchdown, which was confirmed by instant replay.
MY TAKE: This was a very interesting play. It was clearly a fumble, and the question became whether Jeffcoat was in the end zone when he recovered the fumble. What needs to be stated here is that a ball loose from a fumble is no different than a ball loose during a pass. When you go to the ground to complete a catch or to recover a fumble, you must maintain possession after hitting the ground.
Jeffcoat lost possession and when he did actually regain control, the tip of the ball had broken the plane of the end zone. I thought the replay official did a good job confirming the call.