Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Trailing 20-11 with 10:14 to play in the third quarter, Washington State’s Travell Harris fielded the kickoff from California and raced up field. He found a bit of daylight and was able to get to the 50-yard line. It was a huge play, setting the Cougars up with a short field to respond to a Cal touchdown.
But, there was a flag on the field. WSU was called for illegal hands to the face, bringing the ball all the way back to the 8-yard line, a crushing 42-yard swing. And it should have never happened.
There was a penalty on the play. But the penalty was against California. The Pac-12 admitted a “mechanics error” occurred on the play and it the illegal hands to the face penalty should have been enforced against the Bears.
If only the Pac-12 could have someone working from a replay command center overriding these calls… https://t.co/GCs46KNejJ
— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) November 11, 2019
Instead of starting at their own 8-yard line, the Cougs should have begun the drive at the Cal 35-yard line. An even shorter field. The officials realized the issue and alerted the WSU coaches, but only after the first play of the drive had been run. By then, it was apparently too late to correct their error. WSU went on to kick a field goal on the drive to make it a 20-14 game.
Cal outplayed WSU in the second half of the game, so the gaffe may not have changed the ultimate outcome of the game, but it remains inexcusable. Judging by the Sports Reference win probability calculator, the mistake could have very well flipped the outcome of the game.
Down by 9 with 10:14 left in the third quarter and with the ball 1st-and-10 at their own 8-yard line, the Cougars had a win probability of 24.6%. Had the penalty been correctly enforced, WSU’s win probability jumps up to 39.2%.
Fifteen percentage points of win probability because officials couldn’t manage to assign a penalty to the right team.
Only in the Pac-12.
To add insult to injury, WSU was flagged for a personal foul on Cal’s subsequent drive after a coach yelled at an official. Maybe the coach was a little angry about being screwed over the previous drive — and maybe after you make a 57-yard gaffe you should expect some criticism.
Just for fun, that penalty reduced WSU’s win probability by another 2.5%.
Great job, Larry.
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