Virginia Tech players, coaches and fans – in that order – have every right to be frosted over two third-quarter whistles Saturday at Clemson. But though most reasonable observers would agree that the calls were incorrect, the plays differ drastically from those in two other Saturday games that led the ACC to suspend officials.
Here’s the rub: The ACC issued one-game suspensions Monday to Florida State-Miami referee David Epperley, and Duke-North Carolina head linesman Tyrone Davis and side judge Angie Bartis, for their procedural and mechanical failings.
Conversely, Virginia Tech-Clemson referee Brad Allen and replay official Joe Rider were guilty of poor judgment. And if conferences publicly acknowledged every poor call, and if they reprimanded and/or suspended officials in each such case, crews would be decimated.
In short, bad calls happen, even with replay reviews. They are inevitable. The athletes are too fast, our eyes too slow, technology too imperfect.
What should not happen is a referee misapplying, or not knowing, a basic rule (Florida State-Miami) or being so unaware that a player’s safety is compromised (Duke-Carolina).
The FSU-Miami error occurred as Seminoles kicker Dustin Hopkins lined up to attempt a 41-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining in the first half. Offensive lineman Josue Matias moved early, and by rule, the penalty usually would have caused a 10-second clock run-off to end the half.
Epperley announced the 10 second run–off but was then reminded by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and a member of the crew that the Seminoles had a remaining timeout. Epperley confirmed his error and announced it was not a run-off, and that play had to be resumed.
Miami players had headed to the locker room, only to be summoned back when Epperley discovered his mistake. Hopkins made the subsequent kick from 46 yards to break a 10-all tie.
The Seminoles won, 33-20.
Meanwhile, early in the second quarter at Duke, Blue Devils receiver Conner Vernon was split to the left side, closest to the Carolina bench, when Tar Heels linebacker Shakeel Rashad subbed in. Approaching from behind, Rashad dipped his shoulder and blindsided Vernon, knocking him down (video here).
Davis and/or Bartis should have seen and flagged the cheap shot. Neither did, and the ACC suspended them and Rashad.
The conference’s career leader in receptions, Vernon returned to action. He finished with game-highs of six catches and 124 yards as Duke won 33-30 to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994.
When the ACC announced its suspensions, and letters of reprimand for the entire FSU-Miami crew, many Virginia Tech faithful asked, “What about us?”
With Clemson leading 17-10 midway through the third quarter, Tech’s Logan Thomas completed a pass to J.C. Coleman to convert a third-and-8 from the Hokies’ 29. Except Allen whistled the play dead because tackle Josh Watson had Thomas wrapped up around the legs.
Keep in mind that college football does not have an in-the-grasp rule, and that mere leg wraps do not topple Thomas, a 6-foot-6, 262-pound tank. Still, no matter how flawed, it was a judgment call meant, presumably, to protect Thomas from being hit high by another defender while his legs were immobile.
After Tech’s subsequent punt, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd threw a 9-yard to Sammy Watkins at the Hokies’ 41. Detrick Bonner stripped the ball, and Tech’s Antone Exum recovered.
Head linesman Arthur Hardin ruled Watkins down before the fumble, an understandable call given his blocked view. Properly, the replay booth intervened, and replays seem to show a fumble.
Thanks to Adam Cregger, aka @hokiecritter, for tweeting me this photo clearly showing Watkins losing the ball before hitting the ground.
But replay officials don’t view still photos, and Rider, who worked ACC games on the field for 20 years, confirmed Hardin’s call, meaning he did not find the indisputable evidence needed to overturn.
Again, it’s a judgment decision, albeit wrong.
Clemson took full advantage, driving the final 41 yards for a touchdown and 24-10 lead. The Tigers won, 38-17.
“It’s just something you have to live with,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
Doug Rhoads, the ACC’s supervisor of officials, declined comment. Bet he heard plenty from Beamer, and deservedly so.
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