Clemson-Louisville Notebook: a familiar replay issue arises

Clemson’s predictably ragged 20-17 win over Louisville on Thursday night (due to the fact that both teams were playing their second game in a six-day span) was a win the Tigers ultimately deserved. Viewed strictly in terms of fairness, it’s a good thing Louisville did not tie or win the game on its final possession.

Clemson never should have had to sweat out that last defensive stand… for an unusual reason, but one that fans of other sports can readily recognize.

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What are NBA officials doing in the cover photo for an ACC football game? We’ll get to that very shortly, but first, let’s take you to the night’s most controversial sequence.

Late in the game, with Clemson trying to ice the win by gaining a final first down, Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson scrambled and was ruled to have gained a first down. In real time, you could see Watson bounce a yard forward after initially hitting the ground. the officials marked the ball at the end of Watson’s body bounce, not at its origination point. Replay did intervene, and it did correct the mark, thereby putting Clemson short of a first down.

At least this time, a ball-spotting error was corrected, something not seen in two big games from the previous Saturday. In this piece, we wrote about the constant problems with accurate ball-spotting in college football. For one night, though, a ball-spotting error was erased.

Problem solved, issue closed, right? Wrong.

This is where the NBA comes into focus.

It’s not a terribly complicated concept, but the rules and policy structures governing the use of replay in college football — as in other sports — need to be made more elastic and expansive. More specifically, they need to be given the flexibility and broad dimensions outlined here, in a piece on NBA replay officiating at Bloguin’s NBA site, Crossover Chronicles.

Read that piece on NBA officiating. It offers the common-sense bottom-line verdict which should also apply to Watson’s run near the end of Clemson-Louisville.

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Though Watson was in fact short of the first down, and though replay correctly and accurately overturned an errant on-field call, there was still a problem and a deficiency with how that situation was handled: Watson’s facemask was grabbed as he was being brought down. No penalty was called on the field.

No, the replay booth didn’t err. Everyone in that booth did his or her job properly. Let that point be absolutely clear. What’s at issue here are the policies governing the use of replay. Currently, if a call is reviewed for a specific reason (in this case, the spot of the ball), replay reviewers do not have the authority or leeway to be able to make determinations on any other call. If there’s a component of the play which is previously missed, and affects the specific call being reviewed, it can be taken into consideration. Separate issues — especially penalties committed (but not called) — cannot be ruled on or otherwise incorporated into the replay booth’s efforts to resolve a given situation.

In the link above at Crossover Chronicles, the principle is crystal-clear: If NBA referees review an out-of-bounds call but notice that a foul was committed in the process of causing the ball to go out of bounds off the offensive player, it only stands to reason that the refs should be able to retroactively call and apply a foul.

Back to Watson’s run in Clemson-Louisville: The same principle applies. Sure, Watson was short of the first down, but he was clearly the victim of a facemask penalty. Clemson should have kept the ball, and it should not have endured one more possession from Louisville. (Come to think of it, no viewers should have had to endure that last possession from Louisville.)

Can we make better replay policies next year, college football?

(No, I’m not counting on it, but I’ll always make the appeal.)

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The other item worth examining in this Clemson-Louisville notebook is the Cardinals’ clock management at the end.

A number of people felt that on third down, the Cardinals and quarterback Kyle Bolin should have spiked the ball to set up a long field goal (beyond 50 yards). Given that Louisville had missed a 38-yard kick which would have tied the game earlier in the fourth quarter, the instinct to run another play was the proper one.

The problem? Bolin was not prepared to run the play.

You will notice if you review the sequence as it happened on television that Bolin was looking to the sidelines for a play. He also stood in the shotgun formation for several seconds before the snap came. The problem was not that Louisville failed to spike the ball; the problem was that the Cardinals snapped the ball inside the 10-second mark of regulation instead of somewhere close to the 15-second mark. With a completed pass of around 10 yards, they could have gotten out of bounds in much more manageable field goal range with a handful of seconds left.

Also worth noting in this review of Louisville clock management at the end: After Louisville’s tight end ran out of bounds (smartly, too) to give the Cardinals a permanent clock stoppage, the next play — which should have been free of complications precisely because the clock had been permanently stopped — turned into a disaster. Bolin and his center were not on the same page, and a botched snap wasted a down for Louisville.

The kicker here: Bolin gained plenty of experience last year, due to the injuries ahead of him on the depth chart at quarterback. That he was given this chance to claim the starting job, only to be so markedly unaware of what he needed to do in a two-minute drill, reflects very poorly on the job Bobby Petrino has done with his quarterbacks this season. It’s not the only reason Louisville is 0-3, but it is certainly one of the main ones.

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A closing comment on this game:

On the same night that the NFL made two of its teams (Denver and Kansas City) play a Thursday game after a non-bye weekend, it’s deplorable that college football created the same scenario for Clemson and Louisville. If player safety and health really are valued, scheduling situations such as these simply will not happen.

Do better, college football. You could have set an example superior to that of the NFL, but you failed.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |

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