Many N.C. State fans were fuming when they left Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday night after the Wolfpack’s loss to Clemson.
And still were on Monday.
The officials, referee Riley Johnson and his eight-man crew, were the main targets of the Wolfpack fans’ ire.
It wasn’t just the penalties – six on N.C. State – but the ones not called on Clemson. N.C. State’s offense ran 84 plays in the game, and the Tigers’ defense was flagged only once, for pass interference in the first quarter.
A review of the two most controversial decisions by Johnson’s crew in the 38-31 Clemson win:
1) The illegal shift penalty on N.C. State
Time: :27, fourth quarter
Score: Clemson 38, N.C. State 31
Spot: fourth-and-10 from the Clemson 28
N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley hit receiver Jakobi Meyers with a pass for a 24-yard gain, and what would have been a first down, but it was wiped out by an illegal shift by receiver Stephen Louis.
With 17 seconds on the play clock, Finley called an audible. Finley had Jaylen Samuels, Meyers and Louis (in that order) split to his left. When he changed the play at the line, Samuels and Meyers looked back and took a step back.
That meant that Louis, the outside receiver, had to step up to the line of scrimmage to avoid an illegal formation penalty (you have to have seven players on the line scrimmage, without Louis, N.C. State only had six).
Samuels motioned to Louis to step up to the line and as Louis moved forward, center Garrett Bradbury snapped the ball to Finley with about 13 seconds on the play clock.
It was described on the broadcast, by ESPN play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore, as: “A penalty that had little impact on the realities of the outcome of that play.”
But it was the right call. The timing of the flag, and the play it erased, led to a loud chorus of boos from the N.C. State fans. When Johnson turns on his microphone to announce the call, the boos nearly drowned out his voice.
On the next play, Finley tried to find Louis down near the 10-yard line, but Clemson safety K’Von Wallace intercepted the pass to end the game.
2) The replay overturn of a 15-yard catch by Meyers
Time: 13:27, third quarter
Score: N.C. State 21, Clemson 17
Spot: third-and-14 from the N.C. State 35
Meyers, lined up to Finley’s right, ran a wheel route to the N.C. State sidelines. Finley threw the ball to Meyers at the N.C. State 49-yard line.
Meyers jumped and grabbed the ball over Clemson cornerback Ryan Carter and took a step before safety Van Smith could get there to help. Meyers caught the ball with both hands above his head. It didn’t look like he had control of the ball on his first step down but on his second step, which was inbounds, it did look like he had it.
The play was ruled a catch on the field. Finley hurried the offense back to the line of scrimmage, at the 50-yard line, for a first down play. The ball was snapped, and Finley handed the ball to Reggie Gallaspy before Johnson ruled the previous play would be under review.
So two issues here:
1) Can the officials stop and review a play after “the ball is next legally put in play,” to use the exact wording from the NCAA rule book?
According to N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, the officials can.
“They have the ability, after the play is snapped, to go back and review the play as long as (the replay officials) notified the (on-field) officials,” Doeren said on Monday. “That is legal.”
So the timing, when the on-field official is actually buzzed, or notified by the replay crew in the booth, can get a little fudged by the delay in relaying the message.
2) Was there enough video evidence to overturn the original call?
According to the replay section of the NCAA rule book:
“The replay official may reverse a ruling if and only if the video evidence (Rule 12-6-1-c) convinces him beyond all doubt that the ruling was incorrect. Without such indisputable video evidence, the replay official must allow the ruling to stand.”
This is why nearly every game the TV announcer will point out during the broadcast it’s the ruling on the field that matters.
The replay booth does have the ability to use more angles and replays than the ones that are shown during the broadcast, but ESPN didn’t show a conclusive replay that Meyers didn’t catch the ball.
Based on the ESPN replays, and how the replay rules are written, the officials got that decision wrong.
N.C. State punted on the next play, and neither team scored for another 7 minutes, but N.C. State certainly would have liked the opportunity to continue the drive from midfield.
From the standpoint of how it affected the atmosphere of the game, the crowd wasn’t willing to give Johnson’s crew much leeway after that call. It all boiled over by the end with some fans throwing trash and spitting on Johnson’s crew as they ran off the field after Wallace’s interception.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio