This season, I've had to devote my time to some non-TSF things that I couldn't do concurrently with producing well-written articles. EhhTee and MadJay have both carried the water this year, and they have done a great job. However, events in overtime of the Sugar Bowl have brought me out of hibernation to author this piece. My primary reason for writing this I withhold until the near end, but please indulge me. This is not the game review. That's coming from MadJay.
Full disclaimer, I am a Hokie fan. I cheer for them every game of every season, and I felt no differently about this game. However, I am an objective fan in regards to officiating. I want the Hokies to win on good calls, and if I see a bad call that benefits the Hokies, I'll say it, sometimes to the frustration fellow fans in the same room. I apply that same objectivity in my comments written for this article.
During the Hokies' only overtime possession, quarterback Logan Thomas put a pass in the air that Danny Coale caught with a spectacular dive in the endzone, sending Hokie fans into a cheering frenzy. An official instant replay review overturned the call, bringing up fourth down. The Hokies went to kick the field goal, but third string Justin Myer, who had kicked perfectly thus far on the night, missed the field goal. Michigan kicked a field goal in their first overtime possession to end the game.
Many have cried foul over a bungled overturned call, and many have also claimed that the Hokies made mistakes that they should not have made and thus allowed Michigan to keep themselves in the game. Both are valid claims. For example, calling a time out prior to a fake punt and later going for it on fourth down at midfield baffled me beyond belief. However, this does not erase the Hokies' entitlement to fair officiating, the very crux of this article. That's true for any team for that matter. Pundits who dismiss poor officiating for games where the losing team should have played better dismiss the fact that football has rules that should apply to both teams alike and fairly. In no way shape or form do the Hokies' mistakes give any fan or pundit reason to shrug off errors by officials.
Before going forward, let's clearly state the rules of instant replay review. Overturning a referee's call requires indisputable evidence of an erroneous call. An instant replay review can have one of three outcomes. One, it can confirm the call on the field, meaning the referee made the correct call. Two, it can allow the call to stand, meaning the instant replay officials can't verify the correctness of the call and neither can it identify an error. Three, it can identify an erroneous call and overturn it.
Number three happened to Danny Coale's overtime catch. The instant replay booth gets it wrong from time to time. That fact alone does not make this instance stand out. What makes this instance stand out from others is the egregiousness in the error of the instant replay officials' overturning of the call as well as the timing of such an error. Let's examine the video evidence.
Shot 1 clearly illustrates that Coale lands in such a manner that his body obstructs the view of the official, on the right in the shot. The official had no way to verify that Coale did not use the turf to control the ball; therefore, the play warranted review. This shot also shows that Coale initially has both hands and arms around and his chest surrounding the top half football while the bottom half of the football is exposed.
Shot 2 shows the orientation Coale's upper body, arms, and hands all wrapped around the football. You can also see that the football comes into contact with the turf as he lands; however, there is an if, and this is a very big if. The positioning of Coale's body, arms, and hands indicates that the turf did not contribute to his control over the ball. If he did use the turf to control it, the football would have changed its orientation with respect to his body upon impact. Such a change did not occurr. (full motion footage below)
Shot 3 shows Coale's elbow coming into contact with the turf in bounds within the endzone. You can see his elbow just behind the football touching the turf. He has the top half of the ball lodged between portions of his forearms, hands, and chest, and he keeps the ball between them during his landing. Again, in the full motion footage the ball does change its orientation with respect to Coale's body.
Just in case you're still not convinced, Shot 4 shows Coale after he has landed on the ground in mid bounce upward at the very beginning of a tumbling roll out of bounds, resulting from the momentum he had in a dead sprint for the ball. Notice that in mid bounce he has the ball completely in his possession and the same portions of his hands, forearms, and chest grasp the ball, primarily the top half. Given the laws of Newtonian physics and friction, there is no possibility that contact with the ground aided in his hold on the ball. On the contrary, it made his hold on the ball more difficult. Again, you really need to see the motion clips, particularly the frame-by-frame clip, to observe this.
Clip of the full motion footage
This instant replay review did not happen in the middle of a regular season game. It happened during an overtime possession of a BCS bowl. Furthermore, the footage confirms the original call. Erring on the side of caution, I could understand a replay official ruling that the original calls stands on the simple basis that the ball comes into contact with the turf. But overturning the call robbed Danny Coale of the credit for one of the best catches --maybe even the best-- of his entire career as a Hokie. Of course it also robbed the Hokies of an earned and deserved six points in overtime. Even Michigan coach Brady Hoke confessed he didn't expect an overturning of the call in a post-game interview
This is highway robbery, nothing less. NCAA football introduced instant replay to correct egregious errors in officiating, not create them. The simple fact is that as much as the Hokies deserve it, we can't call the respective squads back to the Superdome, award the Hokies the six points they earned, and finish the game. Although, I wouldn't object to a few lengthy petitions delivered to the NCAA's mailbox. (That's not a joke.) The NCAA should re-examine the protocols and parameters defined for instant replay review. Even if doing so amounted to no substantial changes, the act of doing it would send the message to the officials in the booth to do things by the book, because based on the evidence I do not believe that's what happened on Tuesday night.
I'm not the only author writing about this. Here are a few links of others noting the officiating error.
Bleacher Report: "This should have stood simply because there was no definitive way to say that Coale did not catch it."
Ology.com: "Coale's catch should have been a touchdown, and if it wasn't that means that we're dealing with a bad rule."
SB Nation: "Looks like a catch to me."
Hokie MD: “The officiating crew made an error.”
(includes very helpful NCAA rule book citations)
In the face of the erroneous call, many athletes and coaches alike would explode in reaction to this. Picture Les Miles, head coach of LSU. He'd have barged into the review booth and screamed profanities at such a volume that anyone within a thirty yards would suffer permanent hearing loss. He'd make appearances on ESPN expressing his disgust. While I wouldn't begrudge him for doing so --after all that's his style-- I appreciate the class that Coach Beamer and Coale exhibited post game. I think our players losing with class is an important part of our program, and I take great pride in it as do most Hokie fans.
Proud of the Hokies Season
Finally, to get to the main reason I've written this piece, I'm proud of the Hokies this bowl season. I've become fairly accustom to having my heart broken by my own team. I think back of losses to Georgia, Kansas, and Stanford to name a few. However, this year I feel heart broken for the Hokies rather than because of the Hokies. They made a number of special teams errors, but rebounded from those mistakes well. They made some atrocious play calls, but responded with a well-executed two minute drill. This year, I'm not wallowing in disappointment of Hokie failures. I always begin the season with hopes of a win in a major bowl, and I think they gave us the next best thing. When the officials don't properly enforce the rules of the game at the worst time possible, that creates a serious handicap. I was stunned and saddened when Myer missed the extra point, but given all the last minute turmoil with kickers and an awkward snap, I think he still delivered. He's part of why there was an overtime in the first place. So I conclude this article by asserting that the Hokies held up their end of the deal this bowl season. I know I'm going to take some flack for that given their mistakes, but I'll remember that even with those mistakes, by most measurable stats, they outplayed a respectable Michigan football program.
Category Michigan VT1st Downs 12 22
3rd down efficiency 4-13 6-15
4th down efficiency 1-1 1-3
Total Yards 184 377
Passing 128 214
Comp-Att 10-22 19-28
Yards per pass 5.8 7.6
Rushing 56 163
Rushing Attempts 30 48
Yards per rush 1.9 3.4
Penalties 4-26 7-68
Turnovers 1 2
Fumbles lost 0 1
Interceptions thrown 1 1
Possession 23:10 36:50