Legal, or not?
That’s what Kansas Jayhawks football fans were wondering after a critical fourth-down conversion by Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams late in OU’s 35-23 victory over Kansas.
On a fourth-and-1 from the Sooners’ 46 with OU leading 28-23 with 3:28 left in the fourth quarter, running back Kennedy Brooks was about to get stuffed for a two-yard loss, but as that happened, Williams ran in and took the ball from him, scrambling forward as Brooks was tackled to advance it five yards for a critical first down.
Was it an illegal pass? An advanced fumble? Or had Brooks’ forward progress been stopped?
After a review, the call on the field of first down stood.
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) October 23, 2021
Big 12 coordinator of officials Greg Burks said in a statement afterward that the call of advanceable forward hand-off was correct.
“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,” Burks said. “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.’”
KU coach Lance Leipold was asked about the play after the loss.
“I thought we made a stop. I don’t know completely if forward progress had been stopped, but he kind of bounced back as it was going. Not even really handed, I think the quarterback just kind of took it away from him, which very heady play from there,” Leipold said. “They said since it happened behind the line of scrimmage, it’s a legal play. And that’s pretty much the explanation I had.
“I didn’t know if it was considered a pass or a hand-off, so I asked if there was (illegal) men downfield, but they said it was a hand-off. Once they made the decision, they were at least on the explanation that they had at that time.”
Leipold was asked if he felt his team was robbed at a chance to get the win because of the call; Williams also was close to having his forward progress stopped.
“I’m not gonna comment on that right now,” Leipold said. “Like I said, those are tough calls on progress. I’d have to take another look at it. But as you know, I’m pretty enthusiastic with officials throughout a game, but at that same time, I understand that the calls and explanations were made. We’ve just got to find ways to make plays.”
Terry McAulay, former NFL referee and rules analyst for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” tweeted that the play should have been blown dead when Williams was driven back two yards. That, though, is not reviewable.
As far as fumble, hand-off or pass, McAulay tweeted “the rule seems to infer that handing is an intentional act by a player in possession. If so, that would make this a 4th down fumble which could not be advanced as the ball was taken away, not handed.”
“Fumble” and “handing the ball” are defined below. While not entirely clear, the rule seems to infer that handing is an intentional act by a player in possession. If so, that would make this a 4th down fumble which could not be advanced as the ball was taken away, not handed. pic.twitter.com/EqmDc42V1Z
— Terry McAulay (@SNFRules) October 23, 2021
A few minutes later, McAulay said, “The replay seemed to show the ball carrier never attempted to hand the ball to his teammate. His teammate took the ball away from him which is what created the loss of possession.”