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UT Got Jobbed By Officials… Sort Of

If you read in the next few days that North Carolina “benefited” from it’s own last-second penalty in last week’s Music City Bowl, you’ll know that the author is a Tennessee fan.  Because Carolina did not benefit from a penalty in last week’s 30-27 double-overtime win.

For the second time this year, UT fans had to watch their team lose a game it thought it had already won.  That’s made life rough on Rocky Top.  Many Big Orange fans want to scream, “Blame the refs” and be done with it.  But it’s not quite that simple:


* Ball on Tennessee’s 25, UNC trailing by 3, 16 seconds remaining — Carolina calls a running play to get deeper into field goal range.  The back reaches the 18 and then madness ensues.

* Ball on Tennessee’s 18, UNC trailing by 3, 9 seconds remaining — the clock keeps right on ticking.  Carolina’s offensive players line up to spike the football and stop the clock with 5 seconds left, but someone on the Tar Heel sideline sends the kicking team onto the field.  In total, 18 men are on field (which tops UT’s 13 against LSU by a good margin). 

* Ball on Tennessee’s 18, UNC trailing by 3, 3 seconds remaining — five kick-team linemen reverse field and try to race back to the sideline so Carolina quarterback TJ Yates can spike the ball.  They can’t make it.  Yates spikes the ball with 1 second remaining, but the clock operator rolls the game clock to zero and officials announce the game is over.  Tennessee celebrates a 20-17 victory.

But it gets whackier from there.

First, officials in the press box realized that the ball was spiked with 1 second remaining.  They buzzed down to the field and told both teams that the game was not actually over.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Texas defeated Nebraska in 2009′s Big 12 Championship Game when officials put a second back on the clock following an incomplete pass.  It might have looked odd, but it’s not unprecedented.

Officials then walked off a five-yard penalty against North Carolina for having too many men on the field — 18 — when Yates spiked the ball.  This has led numerous Vol supporters to claim that the penalty gave UNC another play.  Nope.  The legal spike gave Carolina one more play.  Having too many men on the field cost the Tar Heels five yards.

There was no 10 second run-off for an offensive penalty in the final minute, but seeing as how this was a college game and not an NFL game, the refs were right on that front, too.  The NFL and NCAA have differing rulebooks — run-offs, interference, placement of has marks, etc.  UT backers might want to see that rule changed, but as its written currently, the refs got it right.

All that said, the officials did err in one major area. 

While five linemen tried to race off the field before the spike, the kicker and holder for Carolina stayed put right behind Yates.  The fact that those players did not attempt to leave the field should have made the last-second penalty “illegal participation.”  That carries a 15-yard step-off as opposed to the 5 yards that were actually marked off against the Tar Heels.

Vol coach Derek Dooley — as he also stated after the LSU game — said that the officials should have stood over the football and prevented Carolina from snapping the ball until UT had had ample time to make substitutions.  But there’s a problem with that line of thinking, too.

In October, we at MrSEC.com spoke with SEC coordinator of officials Rogers Redding about Dooley’s complaint following the LSU game.  Redding’s response:


“The rule in question (Rule 3-5-2-e) specifies how this situation should be handled, when the offense is at the line and then makes substitutions: ‘The game officials will not permit the ball to be snapped until Team B (the defense) has placed substitutes in position and replaced players have left the field.  Team B must react promptly with its substitutes.

“The action of the crew (in the LSU-UT game) is a perfect textbook example of how this rule should be used.  The umpire stood at the ball until he received a signal from the referee, who accurately determined that no more subs were coming in for either team and that the defensive players on the field were giving no indication of going to the sideline.”


Last Thursday, the Big Ten crew did not have the umpire standing over the ball waiting to clear it for play.  However, a quick check of the video shows that no Tennessee defenders were coming on or off the field, either.  The Vols were set in their defense just as they had been at LSU.  Therefore, if the umpire had been in position, he still would not have held up the play because no Vols were shifting at all.

(Sidenote — Can you imagine the furor if an offensive team had lined up to spike the ball and the officials refused to let them snap the ball?  You’ll go a long time before you see a college game decided like that.  It might not be following the letter of the law, but here’s guessing that UNC would have been allowed to snap the ball even if Tennessee had been trying to adjust its line-up.)

So for the record, Carolina did not benefit from a penalty call.  The clock stopped because of a legal spike of the ball.  The spike of the ball was legal because Tennessee was not attempting to make any defensive substitutions.  And the 10-second run-off issue is not a factor in the college game.

But Carolina’s kicker and holder did not try to leave the field before Yates’ spike of the ball.  So instead of a 5-yard penalty for having too many men on the field, UNC should have been penalized 15 yards for illegal participation. 

Would UNC’s kicker have hit a 48-yard field goal as opposed to a 38-yarder?  That’s a legit question. 

And that’s where Vol fans have a very legit gripe.  All the other complaints?  Not so much.



 


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