Two days later, the second last play of the Notre Dame vs. Florida State game is still the subject of debate. With a statement released by the ACC stating the officials made the correct call, most of the national media has deferred to their judgement and tried to let it rest. Unfortunately, if you’re a Notre Dame fan, letting it rest is hard to do. Watching the game live, it was hard to argue with the call. It appeared that Notre Dame receivers CJ Prosise (No. 20) and Will Fuller (No. 7) were pushing, or blocking, the FSU defenders to create space for third receiver Corey Robinson (No. 88) to catch and score the game winning touchdown. After watching replay after replay, however, the call began to look more questionable. For everyone involved, it is best to move on. Both teams are still in contention for the College Football Playoff. Nevertheless, it has become mind boggling for me that so many people still agree with the original call of the officials. At risk of repeating what is now now already all over the internet, I’ve decided to take a stab at breaking down “the play” hopelessly hoping the blinders will be lifted off of the naysayers. Let’s take a closer look at everything involved in “the play” with these five hot points of dispute.
First: On the field, the flag for offensive pass interference was called on Fuller. During the live ABC broadcast, analyst Kirk Herbstreit opined that it is more likely that the penalty was actually on Prosise, who in his opinion was the one who appeared to be interfering, although the officials called it on Fuller. Later that night the official box score FSU submitted to the NCAA listed that the penalty was in actuality on Prosise. It seems they are sticking with Prosise, but there hasn’t been any clarity provided by the ACC to the media or public. So who was the penalty actually on? Does it matter? Part of the confusion could be the result of the viewpoint of the official who threw the flag, a point we will get to soon.
Second: The play call for Notre Dame had them lined up in a bunch formation with Prosise at the head, Fuller on the outside and Robinson to the inside. It was a beautiful play call as Brian Kelly saw FSU lined up in man defense and audibled from a trips right formation to the bunch, setting FSU for this play. Lined up across from Prosise was No. 8 Jalen Ramsey. Immediately upon the snap, Ramsey jams Prosise at the line reaching out and making contact before he even takes a step. This can be seen clearly in the photo above. As Prosise attempts to run his route — a three-yard dig to set up in the endzone — Ramsey and he are battling for position. At this point, offensive pass interference, or illegal blocking, is a stretch of a call because both players are fighting for position. What clearly shows that Prosise is not committing interference, is the fact that Ramsey was holding onto the jersey of Prosise preventing him from running his route and turning around to set up a target. Once again, this can be clearly seen in the photo, where Prosise actually has his left arm to his side while his jersey is being tugged on. That is defensive holding.
Third: For the even tougher argument, some people say the foul was in fact on Fuller. Considering that the ACC is sticking with Prosise as the player who committed the foul, an argument doesn’t really need to be made as to whether Fuller interfered or not, but for arguments sake I will touch on it. What’s important, is to make sure you watch the play focusing on the FSU players and not just the ND receivers. Doing so, you realize that it was both FSU DBs who initiated the contact. I already explained Ramsey jamming Prosise. Ronald Darby (No. 3) was the defender on Fuller. Darby has his eyes on Golson from the snap of the ball. He takes two steps back, and as Golson rolls right out of the pocket he then positions himself to either play the QB keep or defend a slant to Fuller. In doing so, Darby steps in front of Fuller cutting off his route. Fuller was running a slant route where he took three steps, faked outside, and then cutes in. As he cuts in Darby steps right into his route, reaches his hands out, and initiates the contact with Fuller, at which point the ball is leaving Golson’s hands. Simply put, that cannot be offensive interference for two reasons: Fuller is clearly running his route when Darby cuts it off, and the ball is in the air and into Robinson’s hands before the two can even seriously engage and in any kind of blocking. Some people are referring to the play as an illegal pick, which would constitute offensive interference, but again, the problem with that is the fact that we’ve already seen how both defenders actually could have been called for the defensive penalties. Not to mention, picks are legal unless there is an obvious intent to impede. Here is an explanation from the NCAA,”What you want to look for, is it truly a situation where the offensive player prohibits the defender from making a play?” NCAA coordinator of officials Rogers Redding said on Sunday. “It’s got to be obvious and the rules even says, ‘an obvious intent to impede.'” Considering that the player covering Robinson, P.J. Williams (No. 26), was never touched or impeded, and simply just blew his coverage, you can’t deem that he was prohibited from making a play either. He just blew his assignment. What’s most telling is right away as Robinson scores, Ramsey turns around, puts his hands up, and yells at Darby for the bust, presumably because it may have actually been his assignment to cover the flat and not Williams. During the broadcast, Herbstreit said that Ramsey was complaining to the refs, but there was not a ref in the area, he turned directly towards Darby clearly indicating that he was upset about the bust and not being interfered with. Here is a good video of Darby covering Fuller and stepping into his route.
Fourth: To add fuel to the fire, the flag came from the far-side back judge, Pat Ryan, who apparently has a history of crucial calls against Notre Dame. There were three referees who had closer positioning to the play, and neither one threw a flag. As Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune explains, “Theoretically, his responsibilities are to watch the snap of the ball, check to make sure the clock starts, then watch what’s going on in the field of play. So would he have been physically able to see the entire sequence unfold on a play where only four seconds rolled off the clock and three other officials close to the play kept their flags in their pockets and signaled touchdown?”
Fifth: Following the play, the referees then missed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Williams, who removed his helmet while still on the field of play. As Hansen states, “Since that would have been a dead-ball foul, the penalties would not have offset. The ND penalty would have been marched off first, then half-the-distance to the goal for the FSU infraction would have given ND first-and-goal from the 9.” Despite the officials missing this call, which the ACC has admitted to, the officials were not finished making errors. They then ensued to march off 16 yards even though the penalty for offensive interference is 15 yards and placed the ball at the 18-yard-line.
Being an NCAA official, is not a job I envy. They are subject to such scrutiny as I have just provided despite having to make decisions perfectly in the heat of game in a matter of minutes, while I have had hours to dissect their work. Therefore, it is hard for me to fault their errors too much. Regardless, it is hard for any Notre Dame fan to easily move on from such a paramount game considering this many errors were made by the officials against their team. At best, the offensive pass interference calls were questionable, and therefore after a gathering of all of the officials, should have been wiped off. Despite the ACC, and many analysts, claiming the right call was made, it is clear to me that it should have never been a factor.
*Note: On the final play of the game, a fourth-and-18 prayer from Golson, Ryan then compounded his errors with another one, calling an interception even though linebacker Jacob Pugh was clearly out-of-bounds. Not even close.