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Key calls determined Big Ten title game
The Spartans defeated the to-that-point-unbeaten Badgers on a Hail Mary back on the final play of the game on Oct. 22. Saturday night on FOX, they played another masterpiece in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
Once again it came down to the closing minutes, but this time Wisconsin won, 42-39. And like the Hail Mary play, in which a lengthy review was needed to confirm whether the ball broke the plane of the end zone, Saturday night’s game came down to a late call by the official.
The Badgers, holding a 42-39 lead with 1:37 left, were facing a fourth down and 3 at their own 26-yard line, the Spartans eager to get the ball back. Wisconsin’s Brad Nortman punted the ball away, but Michigan State’s Isaiah Lewis was called for running into the punter, which gave Wisconsin five yards and a first down. The Badgers then ran out the clock.
You hate to see a game end like that, but it was clearly running into the punter and definitely a good call by referee Bill LeMonnier.
The kicker is protected from any and all contact, and it’s the severity of the contact which determines whether it is roughing or running into the kicker. Replays showed there was clearly contact and, although Lewis was being blocked, it did not significantly change his direction. If it would have, it wouldn’t have been a foul.
Another play I want to break down also took place late in the fourth quarter, and also went against Michigan State. But again, it was the correct call.
Here was the situation:
Michigan State had the ball, third-and 8 at the Spartans’ 39 with 3:05 left in the game. Wisconsin was leading 42-39. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins completed a 26-yard pass to Keshawn Martin on the sideline that was ruled a catch on the field. After an officials’ review, the play was reversed to an incomplete pass and the Spartans were forced to punt.
This was an incomplete pass for two reasons: First, they ruled Martin’s toe was down on the sideline, which made the pass incomplete. Second, even if the toe was in bounds, they would have changed the ruling to incomplete because Martin lost possession of the ball when he hit the ground out of bounds. This automatically would have made the pass incomplete because Martin was touching a loose ball while being out of bounds and before he completed the process of making the catch.
Yes fans, the process of the catch applies to college football, also.
Here are a few other calls worth noting during the Big Ten Championship Game:
The situation: Wisconsin had the ball, third-and-2 at the Michigan State 41 with 4:59 left in the first quarter. The score was tied 7-7.
My take: This is another one of the rule differences between college and the NFL. In college, a quarterback lined up under center is considered an eligible receiver; therefore, Wilson legally was downfield prior to the pass and legally touched the ball. In the NFL, in order to run that play legally, the quarterback would have to start in the shotgun formation. I like the college rule better. It gives us another exciting play.
The situation: After a great scoring play by the Spartans in which Kirk Cousins passed to Keith Nichol, who lateralled the ball to B.J. Cunningham for seven yards and a score, Michigan State was attempting the PAT, trailing 21-20.
The play: Michigan State faked the PAT kick, and holder Brad Sonntag rushed the ball in for a successful 2-point conversation.
My take: My Twitter followers have been asking about this all year long. The holder of the kick may get possession of the ball with his knee on the ground and then get up and run or pass as long as there is a kicker in position behind the holder at the snap or if the kicker simulates kicking the ball. Remember Lucy from Charlie Brown? After playing a trick on Charlie Brown by lifting the ball off the ground when Charlie was trying to kick it, Lucy could have gotten up and advanced the ball the same way Sonntag did for Michigan State.
And here a few key plays from the other games on Saturday:
The situation: Virginia Tech had the ball, third-and-13 at the Hokies’ 48 with 3:45 left in the third quarter. Clemson led 31-10.
The play: Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas completed a 29-yard pass to Jarrett Boykin to the Clemson 23-yard line. A pass interference penalty was called on Clemson’s Coty Sensabaugh; Boykin was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for spiking the ball because he thought the referee hadn’t called the interference. The pass interference penalty was declined, but the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was enforced, giving the Hokies a first-and-25 at the Clemson 38.
My take: In the NFL, when live ball fouls combine with dead ball fouls, the penalties offset. Not the case in college football. Both penalties are enforced. In this case, the pass interference penalty was declined because the ball was caught with a gain of more than 15 yards, then the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was enforced. This another one of the rules differences from Saturday to Sunday.
The situation: Georgia had the ball, fourth-and-20 at the Bulldogs’ 3 with 6:08 left in the second quarter. Georgia led 10-0.
My take: At first glance, this looked like a touchdown. However, CBS showed a down-the-goal-line replay several minutes after Mathieu scored. In slow motion you could clearly see that Mathieu tossed the ball to the referee prior to the ball breaking the plane. The ball left his hand inside the 1-yard line and touched the line judge’s right arm, which was actually in the end zone. Rule 2, Section 19, Article 2 states: ``A pass is thrown forward if the ball strikes the ground, a player, an official or anything else beyond the spot where the ball is released.’’ This then became an illegal forward pass, since it occurred after a change of possession. The penalty is five yards from the spot of the pass, therefore, this should have been LSU’s ball, first and goal from the 6. Some of my Twitter followers asked why the replay official didn’t stop this. But nobody noticed this until CBS showed the down-the-line shot.
The situation: Texas had the ball, third-and-2 at the Baylor 8 with 11:05 left in the fourth quarter. Baylor led 41-24.
The play: Texas’ Cody Johnson rushed the ball for two yards but fumbled it as he was going to the ground. It was recovered by Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon. After an officials review, the play stood as called, giving the Bears the ball at their 12.
My take: I love it when the referee says the ruling on the field STANDS. That’s a lot better than reversing a call without indisputable video evidence. You look at this play and you could make a case either way — that it was a fumble or that the runner was down — it was that close. The ball looked like it was just starting to come out when Johnson’s knees first touched down. It’s that close, even in slow motion. Leave it in the hands of the on-field officials when it’s that close.
The game: Virginia Tech vs. Clemson (ACC Championship Game)
The situation: Clemson had the ball, fourth-and-12 at the Tigers’ 32 with 5:04 left in the second quarter. Clemson led 10-7.
The play: Virginia Tech’s James Hopper was called for roughing the kicker on Clemson punter Dawson Zimmerman and the Tigers were awarded a first down at their 47-yard line. The replay official initiated a review to see if Hopper touched the ball, but after the review, the play stood as called.
My take: Running or roughing into the kicker is not to be called if the player who makes contact with the kicker touches the kick before the contact occurs. Under replay rules, touching of the kick is reviewable; therefore, when reviewing the play, if you have indisputable video evidence that the ball was touched, the flag is to be picked up. In this case, the replay official did not feel that there was enough video evidence to reverse the call made by the referee.
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