With 3:27 to play in the game, Oklahoma faced a 4th-and-1 from its own 46-yard line. The Sooners were clinging to a 28-23 lead against one of the worst teams in D1. Kansas had out-snapped, out-gained, and out-played Oklahoma all day long. So OU head coach Lincoln Riley made the only call he could in this situation - he went for it on fourth down.
It was the right decision. If Kansas gets the ball back, the odds are good the Jayhawks drive down and score the game-winning touchdown with little to no time left. (Words I never thought I’d say.) The Kansas offensive line had been solid all day. QB Jason Bean was having his best game of the season. RB Devin Neal was chewing up chunks of yards. KU was shockingly effective on offense, moving the ball at a 6.3 yards per play clip.
The play call by Riley, however, was pretty questionable - a handoff to Kennedy Brooks up the middle. Brooks was hit two yards behind the line of scrimmage, spun forward to the line of scrimmage, then hit again and driven back three full yards by multiple KU defenders.
As he is being spun around at the end of his three-yard loss, QB Caleb Williams rips the ball away from Brooks and advances past the line-to-gain. After review, officials on the field determined it was a “legal forward handoff” and OU kept the ball, eventually driving down the field and scoring with 42 seconds left to provide the final margin.
Here is the play:
College football is the best.— Josh Schafer (@_JoshSchafer) October 23, 2021
Following the game, the Big 12 released this statement:
The reviewable aspects of the play were position of the ball in relation to the line of scrimmage and if possession was ever lost by the offense. The ball never crossed the line of scrimmage and there was never a loss of possession, not a fumble, so this play was a forward hand-off behind the line of scrimmage.
That action is allowed under Rule 7-6-a which states: “A Team A back may hand the ball forward to another back only if both are behind their scrimmage line and the player handing the ball forward has not had their entire body beyond the neutral zone.”
That’s certainly looking at things through some OU-tinted glasses if you ask me. There are multiple issues with this statement; Hat tip to Terry McAulay (@SNFRules) for the following:
- No mention of the failure to call forward progress after Brooks was driven back a full three yards from the original line of scrimmage. Saying this is a “judgment call” is correct but also a cop-out. His forward progress was clearly stopped and the play was clearly over; the whistle should have been blown.
- The statement declares that the play was not a fumble without citing a rule. A fumble is defined as: To lose possession by any act other than passing, kicking, or successful handing. It’s a bit vague, but it’s simple enough to infer that “successful handing” is an intentional act by the player with the ball. Since the ball was taken away by the QB, that would BY RULE make this a fumble, which in this case cannot be advanced. Does the still-frame photo at the top of the article look like a voluntary hand-off?
- The fact that there was “never a loss of possession” does not mean that this wasn’t a fumble. In fact, the Big 12’s statement that “there was never a loss of possession” is arguable. Kennedy Brooks “lost possession” of the ball. It shouldn’t matter if a defender ripped it out or if a teammate did.
Use your imagination to determine how the game plays out if the correct call were made and KU gets the turnover on downs at the OU 46-yard line. Does KU fumble away its chance in the red zone, or perhaps throw an INT on 1st-and-10? Do the Jayhawks drive down and score the go-ahead touchdown with a few seconds remaining? If so, do they still lose on a long OU field goal?
We’ll never know, but one thing is certain - Kansas got a full dose of “Sooner Magic” on Saturday from both the officials and the league office.