Check The Tape - Kind Of

Nov 13, 2020

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I really honestly seriously intend to bring the full Check The Tape series back. I've gone into each of the last three weeks intending to write it. Well, that's not true. After Wisconsin I said "nope, not gonna do it". Last week I started the process but never finished (other tasks took up the majority of my time) so I have a bunch of clips of the Purdue game I'm never going to use. This week... I'm getting to it at 10:45 pm on Thursday night before I leave for Rutgers at 8:00 am.

So this won't be a full CTT. It's more "0-3 Mailbag III" because it answers this question:

Let's go to the tape.

Actually, let's start with what I saw at the time and then what people sent to me on Twitter. My recollection of the play from watching in the pressbox:

Second and 15 after we jumped at the same time as the Minnesota DT jumped handing us a false start on a play that would have been a defensive offsides. Bhebhe runs a 12 yard route, the defensive back climbs his back before the ball gets there, the official throws the flag. From my view, it appeared that Bhebhe caught it anyway. They announce a first down, then say third down, then Lovie goes out to talk to the ref, then they announce a review, and after the review they say "no catch but it was still a penalty - first down Illinois". My guess from watching live was that Lovie went out there to say something after the official corrected himself to say "actually, third down".

Then the rage tweets appeared in my timeline. And I wasn't sure what was happening (did they say something on the broadcast that I'm missing in the pressbox?). So I tweeted this:

The responses were some more rage (I was going over the play in my brain trying to figure out what might have happened), and I responded to this non-rage one:

The rage tweets then made sense. The review was for a drop, not to verify the spot of the catch and whether it was a first down or not. So I could understand the "WHAT?????" reactions in my timeline. I made a note to myself to go back and figure out what happened, and that is this post.

Let's go watch the broadcast and then walk through it all.

Here's the full three minutes plus. From the start of that 2nd and 15 play to the following 1st and 10 play.

OK, some things to pay attention to.

0:00 - Note that it's 2nd and 15. I think that plays a role here. Officials (and coaches) often work on a 10-yard assumption, and 2nd and 15 complicates that a bit. Meaning, if the play gains 10 yards, ignore any penalty implications because it's gonna be a first down anyway (unless the penalty is greater than the play), which, for PI in college, is a spot foul up to 15 yards and then just 15 yards after that.

That's important, I think, because most longer catches, if he catches the ball even though there was a PI flag, are always just "accept the catch because you get more yards". 22 yard completion with PI would be 22 yards if you take the catch of 15 yards if you take the penalty. More on that in a bit.

0:39 - The ref turns his mic on and does a stadium announcement: "Pass interference. Defense #17. Penalty is declined. The result of the play is a completed pass, first down."

The thing we don't know here, and will never know, is the "decline" conversation between Lovie and the official (if there even was one). Often times, if it's not a decision, the official just makes the decline call (or just motions to the coach that they'll announce the decline). You have 3rd and goal, your opponent jumps offsides, you snap it and complete a pass for a touchdown. That official doesn't check to see if you want to take the points off the board and try again with first and goal - they just say "offsides defense, penalty declined, result of the play is a touchdown". And if you do want to take the points off the board for some reason (maybe it's late in the game and you wouldn't mind running some more clock), you can always correct the official and tell him that you do want to accept the penalty.

So the question here is who was confused about it being a 12 yard completion on 2nd and 15. Seems to me it was probably the official since he announced it as a first down, but it might have been Lovie who forgot about the false start penalty. The way it played out, I'm just thinking the on-the-field assumption (either by Lovie, the officials, or both) was that this was similar to any PI penalty between 10 and 15 yards where the ball is caught: it doesn't matter if you take the catch or the penalty, the ball goes to the same spot.

And that 10-15 yard range is the key, I think. Remember, defensive pass interference in college is a spot foul capped at 15 yards. If the foul occurs 3 yards down the field, the ball is placed at that spot (and an automatic first down). if the foul occurs 53 yards down field, it's just a 15 yard penalty (where in the NFL it's still a spot foul).

So in a "there was a pass interference penalty but the ball was caught" scenario, here's how it goes for college coaches in a typical 10-yards-to-go scenario:

  • 0-10 yards - accept the penalty because you'll get an automatic first down.
  • 10-15 yards - doesn't matter if it's a catch or you take the penalty, the ball goes to the same spot and it's a first down (they usually take the catch so the player can add it to his statistics).
  • More than 15 yards - always take the catch (unless it was 3rd and 23). PI is capped at 15 yards, so if it's a 27 yard catch, always take the catch.

Where this one went wrong, I think (and please toss out "he didn't really catch it" for now): a 12-yard catch was just automatically put in the "it's a first down anyway so just decline the penalty" pile. Again, I'm guessing it was the white hat (because he said "first down" when he made the announcement), but it might have been Lovie as well.

0:51 - If you listen closely you can hear the white hat say "correction - third down". I'm guessing that after he finished his first down announcements, one of his crew yelled "hey boss, third down, not first" to him and so he announced it. This is when Lovie walked out on the field to talk to the refs. I'm guessing that conversation was "hold on here - if the catch wasn't a first down, then I want the penalty". This is the spot in the video that I'm talking about:

Again, my assumption is that the application of the "under 10 you take the penalty, over 15 you take the catch, 10-15 it doesn't matter" rule is the initial mistake that was made. Whoever made the mistake was applying the 10-15 rule in a 15-yards-to-go scenario, not 10. You can always go to the official and clarify, so that's what Lovie was doing here, I assume.

At the same time, you're watching this on the broadcast (and so is the booth official, apparently):

Just a guess here, but I think this is where the Twitter confusion was sourced. I'm watching Lovie meeting with the officials (not even knowing the ball was dropped) thinking "Lovie is telling them he wants the penalty if the catch wasn't a first down", and you're seeing Lovie meeting with the officials thinking they're telling him the the catch is under review.

I'm guessing we were both right. He went out to say "if the catch wasn't a first down, then I want the penalty" (or perhaps, if the official just made the call for him, he's saying "I don't want to decline that"), and at the same time the booth buzzed down to say "under further review".

The only thing that gives me pause is why they reviewed it at all after that. I feel like that conversation pictured above should have just been "review doesn't matter - we want the first down". Because when the returned from the review, that's what they did - first down because of the penalty. So I'm not sure why they'd even review because either way - if he came back to say "catch" or if he came back to say "call is reversed" - the result was still going to be accepting the penalty for the first down. But maybe once something is announced (and the official announced it as a completed catch, first down), it has to be reversed if the replay official sees something different.

3:07 - The crew calls in Dean Blandino for the lamest review of all time. I kind of love his disinterested voice here. Not only is he reviewing an obvious drop, it doesn't even matter because of the penalty. It's a quick "they'll accept the defensive pass interference penalty and get a first down" and Dean is back to monitoring games that matter.

I think that covers it. I have now "checked" the "tape" and hopefully cleared up the confusion. 1:22 am, so not bad.

Next week, I PROMISE to actually check some tape.


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