Thursday, January 05, 2012

Game Review (with a twist at the end) - Sugar Bowl VT vs. Michigan

Well my friends, I've re-watched the game and I still can't believe Virginia Tech lost this game. It might go down as the strangest loss in the history of the program. The Hokies dominated on offense and defense as much as they did, if not moreso, than in the 38-0 beatdown of the Cavaliers. But instead they lost 23-20 in overtime. It took some of the most ridiculous and ill-timed errors on special teams one could believe, one bad coaching decision, another absolutely jaw dropping bad coaching decision and several mindblowing bad calls by the officiating crew to allow Michigan to win this game. Knowing the outcome ahead of time and then watching these plays, it seemed as if fate had decided that no matter what, Michigan was supposed to win this football game.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Highway Robbery

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.

The Incident

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.

The Catch

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

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

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

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.

Shot 4

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

Frame-by-frame clip

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.

Other Articles

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." "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)

Hokie Class

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 VT
1st 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

Go Hokies!

3 Key Plays

There were countless player mistakes and bad coaching decisions and bad ref calls in this game (the Michigan kicker took 2 steps before the snap on the fake FG. How on EARTH is that not a false start?) But I think these three, had they gone the other way, would have transformed the game into a Hokie win. Actually I believe that if ANY of these three plays doesn't happen the way that it did, the Hokies would have won. They were that dominant.

1) 7:00 left in the 2nd quarter and the Hokies were already up 6-0 and had a 4th and a very long one yard from close to the 5 yd line. Going for it on this play instead of kicking the FG had incredibly enormous repercussions on the rest of the game and it was the wrong decision. I am not second-guessing, I said so at the time before the ball was snapped ("said" is the wrong word. I was foaming at the mouth, hopping around, hurling epithets and remote controls in every direction). I will elaborate more on why below and in the game review, but it was the wrong call to go for it, it failed and it set in motion an incredibly bizarre sequence of events that turned a 6-0 lead into a 10-6 deficit in the last 7 minutes of the half.

2) 7:30 remaining in the 4th quarter and the Hokies faced 4th and 1 at the Michigan 48 yd line in a 17-17 ballgame. In a move that will undoubtedly go down as his all-time worst in-game coaching decision, Coach Beamer proceeded to call a timeout, setting off the Michigan radar, and then called for a rugby punt/fake punt option play for Danny Coale. This was a real 4th and 1 and Beamer wanted to go for it badly for some insane reason. And don't think for a second that the Hokies' failure to get a yard and a half on 4th down in the 2nd quarter didn't shake Coach Beamer up and force him into this cockamamie move as opposed to lining up with Thomas on another sneak. (See? That first play was incredibly critical) Much less kicking the ball and pinning Michigan deep where they had no chance to score on a defense that was feasting on them.

3) It's been reviewed and said ad nauseum and so I hated putting this play in here but the facts are the facts. 3rd and 5 in the first overtime and Logan Thomas delivered a ball to the left side of the end zone. Danny Coale made a leaping, total sell-out catch that should have been the exclamation point on his remarkable career. The ref right there in the end zone agreed and called touchdown. The replay official overturned the call and said it wasn't a catch. Everyone has their own opinion on whether it was a catch or not. The only thing indisputable about the replay is that Danny Coale caught the ball in the air and landed on his left elbow IN BOUNDS. What happened after his elbow hit is up for debate so what I'll say is this - it is unthinkable to me that the replay booth could overturn the ref's call either way. Had it been ruled incomplete on the field, you'd have a hard time convincing me the replay is indisputable evidence that Coale controlled the ball all the way through enough to overturn the call on the field. Just the same, having ruled it a catch on the field, it's impossible for me to imagine the replay booth official's mindset in thinking he saw something in the replay that could convince him it wasn't a catch. Coale's elbow hits, the ball touches the ground with his hands on it and he appears to maintain control but there is nothing indisputable about any of the 10 angles the catch was filmed from. We've all seen replays where it's clear that the wrong call was made on the field and that's what replay is for. Having rewatched this particular play 100 times, I still can't figure out what the official in the booth saw that made him sure enough to overturn the call on the field. The view of the ref on the field is supposed to be the default call and if there's any doubt in the replay, the call needs to stand. The fact that it didn't opened up the booth official and the entire officiating crew to embarrassing scrutiny and conspiracy theories. Had the catch stood, I'd lay 20-1 odds that the Hokie defense would have kept the Wolverines out of the end zone to secure the win.