Gamecocks got a raw deal

BY foxsports • October 1, 2011

Wait a second . . .

The time it took me to write that sentence is about the amount of time the officials could have put back on the clock at the end of the Auburn-South Carolina game. I’m sure that’s what South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier thought. And I can’t really argue with him.

Auburn won the game, 16-13, but only after time ran out as South Carolina was trying to drive into position for a game-tying field goal. The defending national champions had scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:38 left and the Gamecocks took over at their own 20-yard line.

With time winding down, South Carolina had the ball, second-and-10 at the Auburn 42-yard line with 8 seconds left. Gamecock quarterback Stephen Garcia completed a pass to Bruce Ellington for 12 yards to the Auburn 30 for a first down. There appeared to be one second — and possibly two — left on the clock when Ellington’s knee hit the ground. But officials ruled that time had expired.

Spurrier said after the game that the official told him that time had run out before Ellington’s knee hit the ground.

"I said, wait a minute, don’t you review that play?’’ Spurrier said he asked the official.

Instead, it appeared the play was not reviewed and the 10th-ranked Gamecocks lost their seventh straight game against Auburn.

"It doesn’t matter now,’’ Spurrier said. "It’s in the history books. So it’s all over. We got beat. Still haven’t beaten them.’’

Clearly, after watching the replays, Ellington’s knee first touched the ground when there were two seconds left on the clock, which obviously conflicts with the statement made by the official to Spurrier. I also would say in watching the action immediately after the game, it appeared that at no time did replay get involved with this play.

Why? I don’t know.

The rule is very clear: It states that the game clock is reviewable on the last play of either half when the clock expires. If there is definitive visual evidence that the clock should have been stopped by rule, then time can be put back on the clock.

The SEC issued a statement saying a review of the end showed game officials followed the correct procedure. I’m not so sure.

I talked to the NCAA National Coordinator of Officiating, Rogers Redding, to clarify the rule. It is clearly reviewable, that we know. The next question becomes when does the clock actually stop to award a first down? Does it stop as soon as the ball becomes dead or does it stop on the official’s time-out signal? If it’s when the ball is dead, there should have been two seconds left. If it’s on the official’s signal, then time had expired.

The rule book is not really clear. However, I go back to the Texas-Nebraska Big 12 championship game in 2009. Time expired on Texas quarterback Colt McCoy’s incomplete pass, which gave Nebraska the victory. The play was reviewed and one second was put back on the clock, which allowed the Longhorns to kick the game-winning field goal.

How did they arrive at one second? That’s precisely the time left on the clock when the ball touched the ground out of bounds, causing the ball to become dead, and by rule, stopping the clock.

Fast forward to Saturday when Ellington’s knee hit the ground, and by rule, the clock should have stopped because of the first down. I don’t see the difference and I don’t see why it wasn’t reviewed.

Ultimately, since the clock is reviewable, I think time should have been put back on the clock and South Carolina should have been given an opportunity for one more play.

Let’s take a look a look at some of Saturday’s many other interesting plays.

Alabama at Florida

THE SITUATION: Florida had the ball, second-and-8 at the Alabama 13-yard line with 1:08 left in the second quarter. Alabama led 24-10.

THE PLAY: Florida quarterback John Brantley was sacked for a 10-yard loss by Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw. Brantley appeared to have fumbled the ball, and after a slight delay, it was picked up by Upshaw, who ran for an Alabama touchdown. However, the head linesman ruled that Brantley was down before any recovery by Alabama.

MY TAKE: It seems every week there is a strange play or two, and this one qualifies. As we all watch these plays, it seems we never get all of the information. The referee covered this play and ruled a fumble and a recovery by Alabama and was officiating the play as if the Tide was going to score a touchdown. When you watch the replay, you can hear a whistle being blown from, I assume, the head linesman because that is where the referee went to discuss the situation. I can only deduce from these conversations, and from the sound of the whistle during the play, that the ruling must have been that Brantley recovered his own fumble on the ground before the ball was ripped away. So there are a lot of unanswered questions. One more question would be: Why wasn’t this reviewed? Recovery of a loose ball in the field of a play is reviewable in college. I also think the referee could have made an announcement that would have helped to clear up all of the confusion. Clearly the announcers were confused. In my opinion, when it was all said and done, if the play was officiated correctly, I feel Alabama should have gotten a touchdown.

Notre Dame at Purdue

THE SITUATION: Notre Dame had the ball, third-and-goal at the Purdue 10-yard line with 13 seconds left in the first quarter. Notre Dame led 7-0.

THE PLAY: Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees attempted a pass to Tyler Eifert that was incomplete. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on Purdue safety Albert Evans for running over to the stands and high-fiving a fan. It gave Notre Dame a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line, and the Irish subsequently scored a touchdown two plays later.

MY TAKE: It is a foul. The rule states that you can’t go to the stands to interact with spectators. It is one of the automatic penalties that include punching one’s own chest or crossing one’s arms in front of the chest while standing over a prone player. Automatic taunting penalties also include pointing hands, fingers, arms or the ball at an opponent or imitating the slashing of the throat. Also deemed to be illegal by rule are: simulating the firing of a weapon or placing a hand by the ear to request recognition. As you can see, the NCAA really cracks down on individuals bringing attention to themselves. I, for one, happen to agree with their philosophy.

Washington at Utah

THE SITUATION: Utah had the ball, second-and-10 at the Washington 15-yard line with 4:37 left in the second quarter. The score was tied 7-7.

THE PLAY: Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn completed a 12-yard pass to Dres Anderson, who then fumbled and the ball was recovered by Washington’s Desmond Trufant at the Washington 6-yard line. After a review, the play was confirmed.

MY TAKE: So often, we all sit back and find it easy to criticize an official who makes a call that turns out to be wrong, only after we have looked at it five times in slow motion. Yet, we are always slow to compliment when an official makes a great call like this one. Slowed down, you can see that the ball comes out of Anderson’s hands a split second before his knee hits the ground. More often than not, this is the case. The officials, in a time frame that lasts about 1/26th of a second, make a call that astounds even me. I would love to take a game and comment only about the good calls the officials make. The only easy call in a football game is delay of game. While they do make mistakes from time to time, they really do an amazing job.

Auburn at South Carolina

THE SITUATION: Auburn had the ball, second-and-7 from the South Carolina 48-yard line with 12:37 left in the second quarter. Auburn led 9-6.

THE PLAY: Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter scrambled out of the pocket and threw incomplete. It was ruled intentional grounding on the field, but after a review, the call was overturned to an incomplete pass.

MY TAKE: I like this rule because it’s one of the rules that is the same for both the college game and the NFL. The officials did a good job of putting together all of the information and picking this flag up. Once the quarterback is out of the pocket, he’s allowed to throw the ball away as long as he gets it back to the line of scrimmage. In the NCAA rule book, under Rule 7, Section 3, Article 2, an exception states that it is not intentional grounding "if the passer is or has been outside the tackle box and throws the ball so that it crosses or lands beyond the neutral zone or expanded neutral zone.’’ In other words, it’s where the ball lands, not where the ball crosses the sidelines. Kudos to the SEC crew and the alternate official who participated in the discussion to ultimately get the call right.

Kentucky at LSU

THE SITUATION: LSU had the ball, third-and-1 at the Kentucky 27-yard line with 11:16 left in the fourth quarter. LSU led 28-0

THE PLAY: LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee threw a 23-yard pass that appeared to be caught by both LSU receiver Odell Beckham and Kentucky cornerback Anthony Mosley. As the two fell to the ground, Mosley appeared to have taken the ball away from Beckham. The play on the field was ruled a simultaneous possession and LSU was awarded the ball at the Kentucky 4-yard line. After a review, the play stood.

MY TAKE: Yet another play involving simultaneous possession . . . let’s address the rule. Rule 2, Section 4, Article 4 states, that "a simultaneous catch is a catch in which there is joint possession by opposing players in bounds.’’ It further clarifies it in an approved ruling that states that when "two opposing players receive a legal forward pass while both are off the ground, and both players return to the ground in bounds at the same time, the ruling is a simultaneous catch and belongs to the passing team.’’ This is what happened here. Although the defender took the ball away after both were on the ground, the rule states that the simultaneous possession ends with the players on the ground and anything after that is irrelevant. It was a good call on the field and in the replay booth.

Utah State at BYU (Friday night)

THE SITUATION: BYU had the ball, third-and-goal from the Utah State 8-yard line with 9:02 left in the first quarter. Utah State led 7-0.

THE PLAY: BYU quarterback Jake Heaps attempted a pass to Ross Apo but it was broken up by Utah State defensive back McKade Brady. Brady was called for a personal foul and was ejected for leaving his feet to make the hit that broke up the pass.

MY TAKE: This is the first ejection I have seen for targeting this year. This play will merit discussion because ejections become a slippery slope. A personal foul penalty is one thing, an ejection is quite another. I will say after looking at the play numerous times, I really don’t think that the act warranted an ejection. Though Brady did launch and make contact near the head and neck area, he kept his head up. In real time, it looked worse than it actually was. I will say that the NCAA is strongly behind ridding the game of targeting. This may be just another statement to support that. Lastly, I actually thought the announcement by referee Bill Athan was the best I have heard in college football in a long while. His clarity, along with the precision he demonstrated in presenting the facts, is one that should be copied by others who find themselves in the same position.

You can follow Mike Pereira on Twitter.

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