Oregon drop-end Tony Washington made a terrific play to sack Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon on third down midway through the fourth quarter of Thursday’s Pac-12 Conference affair. The Ducks scored the last 10 points to tie the Wildcats at 24, and their successful red-zone stand would force a field-goal attempt that would hardly have been a gimme for Arizona kicker Casey Skowron.
Of course Washington was energized. The Autzen Stadium crowd felt his energy, too, coming alive for what seemed like the first time all night. Washington took a bow.
And for that, he was flagged. Arizona got a fresh set of downs, and the Wildcats capitalized with a touchdown that proved to be the game winner.
Did Oregon lose because of officiating? No. Arizona outplayed the Ducks, taking advantage of an injury depleted offensive line and manhandling the Oregon defense at the point of attack. Wildcat running backs Nick Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby had Grand Canyon-sized holes through which to rush.
But by flagging Washington’s innocuous celebration, the officials robbed Oregon of an opportunity. Worse yet is that in a way, the penalty violated the same spirit of the rule Washington was “guilty” of breaking: The refs made the play about themselves.
Here’s NCAA Rule 9-2, Article 1(a)(1)(d):
Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves)
Some could construe Washington’s half-second long bow as violating this rule. Buzz Killington, for example:
Otherwise, the only people guilty of making the play about themselves in that sequence were the officials.
Now, one ill-advised flag is not an indictment on a crew. Too often fans expect referees to be perfect, which is simply not possible. The problem in the Pac-12 is how often the crews have blunders, and in high-profile situations.
Thursday night was simply a badly called game. Taunting penalties were directly responsible for 14 of the 55 points scored, as earlier Arizona was hit with a flag similar to Washington’s. Safety Jourdon Grandon broke up a pass attempt on 3rd-and-long with Oregon near midfield, but the ensuing penalty set the Ducks up deep in Wildcat territory.
In total, there were 19 penalties enforced for a total of 157 yards.
Last Saturday’s game between USC and Oregon State failed to match the total number of flags thrown in Thursday’s Arizona-Oregon contest, but each team’s penalty yardage exceeded 100 yards. Together, the Trojans and Beavers combined for 232 penalty yards.
As the yellow laundry piled up on the Coliseum turf, the collective groans in the press box grew louder.
USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was asked about the Pac-12’s officiating in his conference call the following day. He was levelheaded in his assessment, saying that all he wants is consistency.
Sarkisian cited that while USC was flagged 14 times, Oregon State was hit 13. He compared that to the Trojans’ previous outing against Boston College, in which the disparity was the same: USC was penalized just once more.
Still, there’s an alarming takeaway from contrasting the USC-Boston College and USC-Oregon State games. Playing in ACC Country, USC was flagged three times, Boston College twice.
There are fewer penalties called elsewhere in college football, and it’s evident in the numbers. Six teams–half of the entire Pac-12–rank No. 110 or worse in penalty yards per game: Utah, UCLA, USC, Colorado, Cal and Oregon State. Another four–Washington State, Arizona, Oregon and Washington–are No. 85 or worse.
Maybe Pac-12 teams play a less disciplined brand of football. Of course, a team such as USC can go to the East Coast and get just three flags. UCLA, which has routinely ranked among the nation’s most penalized teams under Jim Mora, was flagged four times when it played Texas in Jerry World.
The teams aren’t the problem. The officiating is. Commissioner Larry Scott must lead some kind of intervention, because the more the stripes make it about themselves, the more it takes away the spotlight from the Pac-12’s great teams and games–like Oregon and Arizona.