Wisconsin vs. ASU: Bizarre ending benefitted no one, even Sun Devils

It was an ending of an NCAA football game so unexpected, so confusing and so without precedent that it left Osahan Irabor channeling the enemy.

“We were trying to get a stop on defense, trying to bear down for our team,” the bewildered Arizona State cornerback said after the Sun Devils’ controversial 32-30 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers Saturday night. “Wow, I just used a U of A reference.

“Go Devils!”

The inherent problem with Irabor’s statement – other than the overt, unintentional reference to the Arizona Wildcats – is that his defense didn’t necessarily do the bearing down on that wild and wooly final play. It was both the incompetence of the Badgers to manage their clock well and the baffling indecision of the officials that led to what happened.

Let’s pretend for a moment that both teams had backed themselves into this situation with questionable play calling, ill-advised two-point conversion tries and the like. We can gloss over Jeff Duckworth’s Wisky-Two-Step on the Sun Devil sideline that could have come back because he was out of bounds but nobody could conclusively say so.

No. For the sake of this specific conversation, we’re going to focus solely on what’ll go down as the 18 seconds that will be replayed ad nauseum for the rest of 2013, especially if Arizona State is on the cusp of a high-level bowl and, perhaps, Wisconsin is on the cusp of missing one.

Before going further, here’s the video for reference.

It was reasonably clear to everyone in attendance what was about to happen, despite the lack of a Badgers timeout. When Wisconsin lined up, it was obvious quarterback Joel Stave was going to center the football? Baffling? Yes, considered the lack of a clock stop. Understandable? Kind of, I guess.

It’s a simple play. Stave takes the snap, moves left, runs into offensive lineman Ryan Groy and appears – APPEARS – to take a knee. From the high television angle, it looked like he didn’t get a knee down, but according to one of many curious NCAA rules, you don’t necessarily have to actually touch the ground.

Then, as we all saw plainly, Stave decided he was going to gently place the football on the 15 yard line as if it were a teacup on a platter. That’s when confusion reigned, Anthony Jones jumped on the ball, Stave started screaming, the clock kept ticking, and for 15 full seconds, it was anarchy.

By the time anyone had figured out that something was wrong, Will Sutton was sprinting toward the north end zone, dreadlocks flapping in the wind.

There are two fairly damning pieces of evidence that indicate that the Wisconsin Badgers really did get jobbed. First, an image that appeared on Twitter from an ESPN camera that didn’t get replayed in the immediate aftermath of the play.

stave-knee-down-91313-espn

This angle, unlike the sideline camera, appears to show Stave’s knee down. Photo: ESPN

Then, as you can see in the GIF, referee Jack Folliard – he of the many years of experience in the Pac-10 and Pac-12 – seems to be signaling directly to Stave that he had, in fact, knelt. The other officials on the field seemingly did not pick up on this signal.

Kneeldown affirmed

Looks like a "you knelt" signal to me. Photo: ESPN

Looks like a “you knelt” signal to me. Photo: ESPN

Meanwhile, if you’re Anthony Jones, what else are you supposed to do? Apparently not having heard a whistle seeing what he thought was a live football just kind of sitting there, lonely as Hulk hitching a ride, he did what every player would have done. He jumped on the ball, and not one man in stripes attempted to remove him from the football.

In that sense, there is no argument here, as many Badgers folks have tried to point out, to flag Jones for Delay of Game. The umpire who is standing over the ball seems to be trying to figure out what’s going on more than anything else and was clearly not in a position to call any sort of penalty. How could he?

The umpire clearly didn’t see Folliard signaling that Stave had given himself up, nor did a clock operator, nor did anyone signal to stop the clock, run the clock, beat the clock, stomp the clock, eat the clock or do anything to the clock.

So it kept ticking. And eventually, it ticked out.

“It appears the officials never got a look at the ball at the end,” Badgers head coach Gary Anderson said after the game, seemingly dodging a question on whether or not he talked to Folliard or any official after the final gun. “It was a shame the way it went down.”

Is he right? Certainly. It IS a shame that a game that tightly contested came down to what amounted to an enormous derp on both the part of Wisconsin and a group of highly respected Pac-12 officials.

And just as certainly, a win is a win for Arizona State, a victory that will raise the team’s national profile going into next Saturday’s matchup with defending conference champion Stanford. But, as we’ll discuss later today, there’s plenty that the Sun Devils have to improve on if they want to come anywhere close to knocking off the Cardinal.

This one, though, is behind them.