I’ve said this a few times here through the years, which makes me wonder if it remains true or applicable, but I’m not the guy who points to the officiating at the end of a game. It’s too common a denominator, and too often one call or one miss overshadows a list of other highlights and lowlights in the two halves or four quarters of the game.
I just tend to tune it out when it’s brought to my attention — though I make exceptions because, as wise man told me, I can’t be censored.
Well, I was going through my texts Sunday from Saturday’s game. I don’t pay attention to my phone during the game and I don’t look at the texts until the day after, when I run them through the program that turns out Texts From Game Day. I wish I had been looking Saturday because one before the game from someone in the college football business texted a rather providential note about “once-suspended” referee Jay Stricherz and his Pac-12 crew.
And for the record, the same person texted me last year before the Orange Bowl and gave me a heads up about the Big Ten crew and “legendarily incompetent” Dave Witvoet. That turned out to be an unnecessary warning because the game was expertly officiated.
After the game, I was overwhelmed by the texts and blog comments and the email and the conversations that complained pointedly about the officiating and the effect it had. A few of the tips were persuasive enough that I gave it a separate look. And I’m glad I did.
Saturday’s game was not expertly officiated. I’d say it was excessively officiated. And I think, unfortunately, that it mattered.
Let me just say this here: Syracuse was by far the more motivated, more prepared and more worthy team Saturday. The Orange were ready for the occasion and more than able to adapt to the weather. You have to remember, that was a passing offense that liked to use receivers and vertical routes and tempo and was all set to give it to the Mountaineers that way.
The snow had other thoughts, so Syracuse went to the backup plan and nailed it. Just nailed it. That’s the team that dominated along the line on both sides and controlled results on the perimeter on both sides. There is no arguing that.
Now, having said that, the Mountaineers were deprived some plays and some opportunities and had momentum yanked from their hands just as they were ready to take a bite. They couldn’t handle that. It was plainly obvious. While some would say you have to play through it, others would say that’s a variable you shouldn’t have to worry about in a bowl game.
And Stricherz and his crew gave WVU a lot to worry about in the 13th game. There were 10 accepted penalties. That’s not the Mountaineers — and that’s the numbers saying it, not me. (You want more numbers? Mess around with this and look at the rankings for Pac-12 teams.) But there was a general shoddiness from the officials throughout the game that just struck me as bad form for the stage.
They were using the wrong signals for fouls. They couldn’t get the clock right on multiple occasions. There was a dead ball foul on first down … and then a first-and-25 before one of the officials blew a whistle to correct it. On multiple occasions, Stricherz wouldn’t talk to Holgorsen and I’m pretty sure that the officials were laughing at Holgorsen and his antics, or at the effect they were having on his antics.
Can’t be sure about that one, but I can read lips and I can tell the difference between laughing with and laughing at someone.
Mostly, though, I think some of the flags were unnecessary, incorrect and, as far as WVU is concerned, at the worst possible time.
I mean, you can call holding on virtually every play. Here’s one called on Josh Jenkins …
Is that a hold? Did the defender simply topple Jenkins? Did Jenkins slip in the slop? I have to assume a Pac-12 crew hasn’t called many games in the snow, so maybe it would have been wiser to get a feel for the field conditions and how players are affected.
I could have done without that one.
And this one, at the opposite end of the game.
Watch Dante Campbell (No. 15). The officials throw a flag at him — and Tavon is having kittens after it because it’s the third time he’s had a long gain on offense or special teams erased — and I’m not positive Campbell was holding. The defender has Campbell’s shoulders and is moving him around with them.
The pass interferences and defensive holding, Wes Tonkery’s inexplicable blocks in the back on back-to-back kickoffs, the intentional grounding in the end zone, the kickoff out of bounds, I’m OK with those. There is no denying any of them.
Karl Joseph’s pass interference is picky, but he’s not watching the ball when he’s hand-fighting. I’m OK with this one.
What’s odd to me on that play, though, is that defensive end Dozie Ezemma, in a three-point stance at the top of the line, is called for offsides. I don’t see how he’s offsides — his hand is two feet off the ball. But, whatever, Joseph’s flag trumped Ezemma’s.
I’d like to have an opinion about Quinton Spain’s dead ball personal foul that derailed WVU’s drive at the end of the first half and, honestly, altered the game. I just haven’t seen the play.
What bothered me more was the nonsense that followed.
Holgorsen wanted an explanation — “What’d he do?” — and never got one and then noticed the play clock was running the whole time. Look at Geno’s histrionics. Not exactly tightly wound there. Things did not improve.
I don’t think WVU was the same after that and I’m positive the Mountaineers had no confidence in the officiating. And it’s sort of hard to blame them.
Here’s the play that’s going to bother WVU for a long, long time.
The call is on Cody Clay, the fullback wearing No. 88. As best as I can tell, Cody Clay, the fullback wearing No. 88, does not hold on this play. He gets his hands on Cameron Lynch, who was a terror, and Lynch spins around to get to the play and … well, that’s it.
I’d never seen WVU’s sideline react the way it did and I’d never seen a coach call a timeout to yell at an official, though, again, Stricherz would not talk to Holgorsen under what we’d consider normal circumstances. It appears at the end of their eventual conversation Stricherz is telling Holgorsen what Clay did and Holgorsen is saying, “No he didn’t,” and Stricherz is going, “Yes, he did.”
By now, it sure seems like Holgorsen and the Mountaineers are fed up with the officiating, which makes this next sequence especially entertaining and frustrating. Geno gets sacked and loses the fumble. Thirty-six seconds pass between the whistle that ends the play and the whistle that means WVU has called a timeout.
That general fumble/incomplete pass call has to be the most consistently reviewed call in football. It’s always so close and the difference between a down and a turnover almost always necessitates a trip to the replay booth. Somehow, the officials never thought to review that in what’s a pretty significant amount of time between whistles. That seemed very weird to me. I thought it was like an automatic thing, but it didn’t happen.
So WVU calls a timeout and there’s a review and the explanation is Geno did fumble, Syracuse gets the ball, the Mountaineers lose a timeout and Holgorsen has used his one and only challenge … which is news to Holgorsen. Read some lips here.
And, again, I don’t think Holgorsen is telling the official jokes at the end there.
It wasn’t long before the Mountaineers unraveled. Geno had already had his fill of the officiating, but that he thought he was tripped on this — was he? — and that he thought he was throwing to Andrew Buie sent him off one last time.
In closing, you have to be better that — and that goes for everyone.