The Officials Are Ruining the Game; Plus N’Keal, Michigan, Utah, Cal QBs, Stanford’s Clock, UC Davis
With my wife and daughter on an all-day shopping spree, I spent Saturday with remote in hand, enjoying a fascinating menu of 14 college football games, starting with Nebraska-Ohio State at 9am and ending with Cal-WSU at 11pm.
Some general and specific observations from a 14-hour binge:
With apologies to my good friend Mike Pereira, officials are ruining the game. Here are four reasons why:
Replay Reviews: I can't understand why it takes replay officials such a long time to determine whether a call shall be confirmed, let stand, or be overturned. There were so many reviews on Saturday that went on for three or four minutes—even when the call was obvious. Replays bring the game to a halt, stop momentum, and compromise the enjoyment of fans.
Waiting for a replay decision is like watching paint dry. Something needs to change. Maybe limit replay reviews to one minute or the call stands?
Targeting: What is targeting? There were two calls, almost back to back, in the Ohio State-Nebraska game that were totally inconsistent. Both times the defender tried to avoid targeting—reacting to the ball carrier, moving their heads to the side, leading with the shoulder. One was called targeting, one was not. Later, a targeting call was made in the Cal-WSU game when the Cougar defender clearly tried to avoid the helmet and make a clean tackle, while an obvious foul in the Oklahoma-Texas Tech game, where an Oklahoma defender nearly took the head off a Tech receiver, wasn’t called.
I'm all for safety in football—it's going to determine whether the game is still being played as we know it 20 years from now—but something must be done to standardize targeting calls and eliminate those where there was no intent. From this corner, it has to be deliberate use of the helmet to be defined as "targeting."
Unsportsmanlike Conduct: When West Virginia quarterback Will Grier ran in a two-point conversion against Texas to give the Mountaineers a 42-41 lead—and the victory—with 16 seconds left, his “celebration” was the typical jubilation of a college student. Grier raised his arms, ran in front of his fans, hugged and pounded the backs of teammates. No taunting, no dances, nothing offensive or disrespectful. Yet he was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which gave Texas good field position on the kickoff and a chance (which fortunately failed) to set up a game-winning field goal.
The call was ridiculous. If we're going take honest emotion out of football, let's not even play the games.
Pass Interference: I'd hate to be a defensive back in college football right now. Almost any contact with a receiver is called pass interference. Brutal.
Enough about officiating. On to some of the players and coaches who stood out Saturday.
N'Keal Harry: Harry is amazing: With Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. sidelined, Arizona State's wide receiver (along with WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew I) is one of the two best offensive players in the Pac-12. Harry’s third touchdown against Utah, a 61-yard catch and run, was a thing of beauty.
Michigan Is for Real: Coach Jim Harbaugh may finally deliver a Big Ten title for Wolverine fans. His defense is outstanding, and Shea Patterson, the transfer from Mississippi, has finally given him a good quarterback. With wins over Ohio State and in the BIG championship game, Michigan will be playoff bound.
Kyle Whittingham is Cursed: Utah's Whittingham, who may be the best coach in the Pac-12, is known for great defense and special teams. When Tyler Huntley developed into a standout QB over the first half of the season, it appeared Whit finally had an offense that would deliver his first South Division crown. Sadly, Huntley suffered a broken collarbone in Saturday's game with ASU, almost certainly ending Utah's title hopes.
QB Shuffle Backfires: Head coach Justin Wilcox is doing a fine job at Cal, and the Bears played a very good Washington State team even on Saturday night, but his quarterback shuffling cost Cal the game.
At least three times in the game, with Cal driving and Chase Garbers wielding a hot hand throwing the ball, Wilcox subbed Brandon McIlwain. In one instance, McIlwain ran a QB keeper and lost yardage. In another, confusion on the play call forced Cal to use an important timeout. In the most critical, McIlwain threw an interception in the end zone when Cal was driving for the go-ahead TD (as a result of several big plays by Garbers).
Wilcox has a short memory. McIlwain had 11 turnovers in three straight Cal losses, before Garbers led the Bears to two wins by eliminating mistakes. Against WSU, Wilcox went to a rotation that proved fatal.
Stanford Clock Issues: Trailing 27-23, Stanford got the ball back Saturday night with nearly two minutes left and no timeouts, needing a touchdown to win because of a missed PAT. The Cardinal moved down the field and, with 54 seconds left, the clock was stopped on a first down. When the chains were re-set, the official started the clock, but Stanford substituted a couple of players, so the official stood over the ball to give Washington the opportunity to do the same (required by rule). By the time the Huskies had shuttled players on and off the field, there were only 26 seconds left.
Stanford lost 28 critical seconds, equivalent to about four plays, which essentially took away any chance to win the game.
Lesson: It’s not a good idea to sub with less than a minute left and no timeouts. If you have to sub, run up to the line and spike the ball on first down, then substitute once the clock is stopped. That will cost you 3 or 4 seconds, rather than 28.
(Note: Later the officials inexplicably held up another play for six seconds—allowing the clock to run from :16 down to :10—when Stanford hadn’t subbed; the Pac-12 will need to explain that one).
Best Team in NorCal: After Saturday’s 42-20 victory over Northern Arizona, the UC Davis Aggies are 8-1, ranked No. 4 in the country, and on their way to the FCS playoffs. Davis is averaging 43 points per game, its only loss to Stanford in a well-played game. The Aggies have a top quarterback in Jake Maier and one of the nation’s best receivers in Keelan Doss, not to mention the astute Doug Kelly as their radio analyst.
The head coach is Davis alum Dan Hawkins, who took Boise State to national prominence and later was the head man at Colorado. Hawkins played for the legendary Jim Sochor at Davis and in just his second year has returned his school to Sochor’s winning ways.
One quick word about pro ball.
Deja Vu: Watching Nick Mullens' terrific performance against the Raiders Thursday night reminded me of Colin Kaepernick's debut against Chicago, also in prime time, on a Monday night six years ago. Turns out the stats and game scores were very similar. Mullens was 16-22 for 262 yards and 3 TDs in a 34-3 win; Kaepernick was 16-23 for 243 yards and 2 TDs in a 32-7 win.
One must acknowledge that Mullens’ heroics came against the woeful Oakland Raiders, who have quit on coach Jon Gruden. Here’s hoping he can play as well this weekend against the New York Giants.