There was an offensive pass interference call in the Rose Bowl today that all but ended Wisconsin’s chances to win the game. With three minutes left, the Badgers were trailing 28-27 on their own 28-yard line and attempting to drive to take the lead. On third down, Jack Coan completed a pass to tight end Jake Ferguson for what appeared to be a first down. However, the referees called offensive pass interference on wide receiver Danny Davis III, which caused a 3rd and 20 and after that a punt.
At first, it looks like a ticky-tack call that was too ambiguous to make this late in the Grandaddy of Them All. Gene Steratore says as much in his tweet. However, if you watch the play, you’ll see that Oregon cornerback Deommodore Lenoir (No. 6) has his eyes on the ball and is in position to make a play when Davis — who is not looking at the ball — shoves him away from the play.
Like Steratore says, there is gray area because of the hand fighting, but it’s that final shove from Davis that knocks Lenoir back just enough to give Ferguson a chance to make the catch. ESPN later showed a sideline view that made it more clear where Lenoir was positioned before and after he was shoved. Before the push, he’s in front of Ferguson with a chance to intercept the pass.
I don’t like game-deciding penalties because often you can’t tell if the violation tangibly affected the play, but here I think you can. Lenoir had a real chance to make a play on the ball before being interfered with. Think about if the tables were turned and Lenoir was on offense and Davis on defense. It’s Lenoir who has his eyes on the ball with a chance to make a play. Davis has no idea where the ball is and is just playing the man. You’d get defensive pass interference called for sure on a play like that. This situation isn’t any difference.
There’s a good chance that the on-field officials didn’t get the chance to process all this information in real time, and yet they still made a good call. Maybe they just got lucky, or maybe they just used their instincts and threw the flag because it looked like the ball would be intercepted with no contact. Either way, this doesn’t look like the huge mistake that some media members will make it out to be.
It’s also a good example of why interference shouldn’t be subject to replay in the NFL due to all of the subjective variable involved, but that’s a story for another day.