NBC rules expert Terry McAuley said the referees messed up on the controversial fourth-down play that helped Oklahoma squeak by Kansas.
Oklahoma has been playing with fire all season, but they’ve managed to remain undefeated thanks to late grit and luck.
In the case of Saturday’s win over Kansas, their luck came via the refereeing crew.
One of the most critical plays of the game involved quarterback Caleb Williams converting a late fourth down to keep the ball out of the Jayhawks’ hands down by five.
College football is the best.
— Josh Schafer (@_JoshSchafer) October 23, 2021
It was a spectacular heads-up play, but according to rules expert Terry McAuley, it was also a major screw-up by the refs.
Terry McAuley says refs messed up on Oklahoma’s fourth-down handoff
“Fumble” and “handing the ball” are defined below. While not entirely clear, the rule seems to infer that handing is an intentional act by a player in possession. If so, that would make this a 4th down fumble which could not be advanced as the ball was taken away, not handed. pic.twitter.com/EqmDc42V1Z
— Terry McAulay (@SNFRules) October 23, 2021
“The runner was held and driven back at least 2 yds prior to losing control of the ball. It should have been declared dead and short of the line to gain. That is not reviewable,” McAuley tweeted.
Basically, the refs on the field messed up by not whistling the play dead when it was clear the runner’s forward progress had stopped. Once they made that mistake there was no fixing it since that element is not reviewable.
However, the refs did have a chance to make it right when figuring out how Williams gained possession.
“The next issue is whether this is a hand-off or a fumble?” McAuley continued. “‘Fumble’ and ‘handing the ball’ are defined below. While not entirely clear, the rule seems to infer that handing is an intentional act by a player in possession. If so, that would make this a 4th down fumble which could not be advanced as the ball was taken away, not handed.”
To McAuley, Williams took the ball away from his teammate, the ball wasn’t handed off. That means the ball should not have been allowed to advance and Oklahoma should have turned the ball over on downs.
The Big 12 disagreed, releasing a statement calling the play legal as it played out.
Ruling from the Big 12… the Kennedy Brooks/Caleb Williams 4th down forward handoff is indeed legal.
Here ya go. #Sooners 35, KU 23 final. pic.twitter.com/WDQWePBMVv
— Bob Przybylo (@BPrzybylo) October 23, 2021
It all comes down to differing definitions of a handoff.
Whichever way you see it, Kansas didn’t get the chance to take the lead. The Sooners went on to score a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
There’s no guarantee the Jayhawks would have been able to find the end zone, so we’ll never know if the outcome of the game was changed.
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