Florida freshman kicker Evan McPherson stared at the official, his hands spaced more than a foot apart, his face in disbelief.
Moments earlier his 36-yard field goal attempt had appeared to sail successfully through the uprights, cutting Kentucky’s third-quarter lead to one-possession in the process.
But the officiating crew positioned underneath the goal posts saw it differently.
McPherson’s kick was ruled no good, drawing an impassioned reaction from his teammates and coaches and a roar of jeers from the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium crowd in the process.
Subsequent replays confirmed McPherson’s attempt should have been deemed a successful field goal, yet confusion remained as to why no review had commenced on a blatant error.
“I was saying review it, apparently you can’t review it,” wide receiver Josh Hammond said.
According to the NCAA’s rulebook concerning reviewable plays, field goals are eligible for review only if the attempt does not extend past the 30-foot upright.
McPherson’s kick did appear to exceed the mark by less than the length of a football, leaving Florida helpless. At best, the Gators were the unfortunate victim of human error. At worst, the blown call was a potentially game-changing sequence for a team looking for any piece of momentum to latch onto Saturday night.
Coach Dan Mullen, visibly irate at the time at what had occurred, offered no explanation for the blunder, directing all questions to those in charge at SEC headquarters.
“I mean, there’s a guy whose job it is to stand under the goal post and call whether it’s good or not. He said it was no good. So there’s nothing else I can do about it. That was his responsibility,” Mullen said. “Would be a good question for him or (SEC director of officials) Steve Shaw. That’s nothing to do with me.”
A rare situation, sure, yet Mullen is mistaken in that it’s an NCAA decision rather than a rule individual to the conference, and Saturday was hardly the first time a program has been deprived of a potentially game-altering field goal due to an officiating error or limitations of the rule book.
The 2015 edition of the Pinstripe Bowl featured a shootout between Indiana University and Duke University that lasted until the final whistle, when Hoosiers kicker Griffin Oakes had a chance to hit a game-tying 38-yard field goal with his team trailing 44-41 in overtime. Oakes’ kick appeared to sail over the upright and in, but the officiating crew deemed it a miss, much to the dismay of the Hoosiers and Oakes, who, like Hammond and the Gators, pleaded for a review.
The NFL has the same rule in place regarding the review of field goal attempts, and it led Patriots coach Bill Belichick to draw a hefty $50,000 fine in 2012 for arguing that Baltimore Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker had in fact missed a field goal that officials incorrectly declared a successful kick.
Yet the New England head coach helped institute a fix that has so far prevented a repeat of the controversy in the NFL to date — he introduced a rule prior to the 2014 season that simply extended the height of the goal posts from 30 to 35 feet. It was an expensive fix — each goal post that meets NCAA requirements often costs between $5,000 and $6,000, an engineering study by Gilman Gear revealed, and raising the height 5 feet cost “considerably more”. The main takeaway is such: Florida’s goal posts stand 30 feet, meaning McPherson’s kick seemingly would have been a reviewable play in the NFL due to a rule intended to help officials make the correct call.
Point aside, the Gators can’t control the mistakes of an official, and they can’t expect special treatment regarding NCAA-wide rules. What happened may have been unfortunate, but it was within the guidelines of the game. Saturday’s loss also came with the reminder that some aspects of the game are beyond a player’s control.
“I thought it was good and the fans thought it was good too,” wide receiver Van Jefferson said. “(Officials) made the call, so we couldn’t change it. So it is what it is.”