At the end of Saturday’s 28-24 loss to Navy, a very interesting series of events led to UConn only getting one play off in the final 17 seconds of the game, needing a touchdown from the 1⁄2 yard line.
UConn had 1st and goal on the 10-yard line with 21 seconds left in the game from the right hash marks. Shirreffs threw the ball to Hergy Mayala on the right side and he fell out of bounds just outside the goal line. UConn head coach Bob Diaco said he didn’t think the play would get off on time, so he used his final time out to prevent a delay of game penalty.
The play was then reviewed to see if the pass was completed, meaning play wouldn’t have started until the snap on second down, regardless of the timeout Diaco took.
Diaco said they had two plays called coming out of the timeout. The first was a run up the middle with Ron Johnson. He was stuffed at the line for no gain with 12 seconds left and then time expired before the second play, on what was 3rd and goal from inside the 1-yard line, could be run.
As the video shows, there is a lot of commotion and the huge pile did not aid the referees in resetting of the ball for UConn to run its next play. The Midshipmen defenders found it prudent to get up slowly in order to make it less likely the ball would get reset in time. This isn’t singling out Navy as unsportsmanlike, as this strategy falls under standard gamesmanship. After the game, UConn’s own defenders said they would do the same and Diaco didn’t criticize the approach either.
The rule states “On a running play late in the half, the Team A ballcarrier is tackled inbounds. Team B players are deliberately slow to “unpile” in an obvious attempt to consume time and prevent the officials to make the ball ready for play. Ruling: Team B foul for delay of game. Penalty— five yards at the succeeding spot. The game clock will start on the snap.”
Another section also states: “The rules give the referee broad authority in stopping and starting the game clock or the play clock if he feels that a team is manipulating the clock to gain an advantage. Near the end of the half, the clock rules become increasingly important.”
It took the referees more than 12 seconds to reset the ball and get it ready for play, as it was set just after the CBS Sports clock hit 0:00. One could argue that is untimely and that Navy should have been called for a penalty under this rule.
They were not called for delay of game, however, in a call which the conference agrees with. When contacted, the American Athletic Conference spokesperson said, “The administration and mechanics on the final play of the UConn-Navy game were correct from an officiating standpoint.”
Navy linebacker Daniel Gonzales said that Navy actually practices getting out of the pile.
“Half-yard line, I knew we had to make a stop,” Navy linebacker Daniel Gonzales told the Washington Post. “Honestly I was thinking with 17 seconds they at least would have two plays to go.
“In that game situation with time running down, you lay on the guy until the ref pulls you off.”
Sound strategy, as it certainly worked. But was what Navy did within the rules?