Gators at mercy of rule in field goal controversy

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Florida freshman kicker Evan McPherson kicks a field goal that was ruled no good in the fourth quarter Saturday against Kentucky at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

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.”

44 COMMENTS

        • That was with the final fumble return for a TD, if the field goal counts and Franks hits an open Malik Davis on the 2-point conversion attempt, it’s a tie game with four minutes left. That’s the point the article makes about momentum, swings, etc. and why fans may have a right to be mad.

          • The article is legit, Graham, and nicely done. I just don’t think the missed field goal is consequential. Fans have every right to be mad, but the focus should be on correctable problems, rather than “what ifs.” But forgive my testiness, we all mourn differently.

        • Agreed. Woulda, shoulda, coulda…When you have to rely on fictional IF’s to see your way to winning a game, you deserve to lose. Here’s one – IF only we had been able to block and tackle the opponent, then we would have won the game!

          • Sorry – meant to agree with Rocketman, but got tucked-in under Graham instead. Fans who blame refs for losses when their team plays poorly are in denial of the truth. Refs are part of the game, just like field conditions, fake cramps, and all the rest. Winners win anyway.

        • Tropper. That is obvious, as was the FG being between the goal posts. And Davis being wide open in the end zone on the two point try. Well, obvious to everyone but Feliepe Franks. And I will not repeat the obvious about Feliepe Franks. Just looking forward to the day when he is no longer the starting QB for the Florida Gators.

          • Tom Brady would look bad with this OL. They could not block Charleston Southern which is not much more than a good H.S. team

          • Pick the best QB in the history of football, it doesn’t matter, he would look pathetic under these circumstance…..

      • Actually it would have been 21-20 because there would have been no reason to go for a 2 point conversion! With that momentum in their favor the team would have played differently leading to possibly better results and definitely different play calls by the coach! changed the whole outcome of the game.
        Fact would still remain that they played horribly on both Lines!

    • Patrick, the replay showed the ball eventually traveling inside the posts when it went over it the goal. I think the ref saw the initial wide right flight of the kicked ball and did not follow the ball all the way through. Rule one. Never assume anything, other than maybe the Florida offensive line and QB play never being good again. But I never assumed that the Florida defense would be this bad. And it is worse than bad.

  1. Actually the officials inadvertently cost Florida another four points after Feleipe Franks’ race to the Kentucky 3-yard line where he leapt out of bounds. Next play began with a snap go Franks who pitched to Jordan Scarlett who swept tight on a clear path to the end zone. But with the play underway the officials blew their whistles, halting play so they could review the spot of the ball after the previous play. Florida went backward on a sack of Franks and settled for a McPherson field goal.

    Give Scarlett a touchdown there and a correct call on McPherson’s subsequent 36-yard FG attempt and the Gators trail 21-17 when Franks leads his offense 99 yards to a touchdown that with an extra point would have given Florida a 24-21 lead with under four minutes to go.

    The Wildcats outplayed our guys from start to finish. They had the physically better team. But the officials cost the Gators dearly in a game that Florida well might have stolen as a crafty win.

  2. My mistake on prior post: had the officials not whistled dead one Florida okay and correctly ruled McPrrson’s FG attempt as made, Franks’ TD pass with under four minutes to okay could have tied the game. UK might still have won but Florida might have stolen a victory, too. We’ll never know.

  3. In a game where Florida’s play was far from stellar, we needed every break we could get. They didn’t come in this game. The made field goal and Franks seeing Davis for the 2-point conversion, and we don’t need to break our necks and give up a fumble for a touchdown in the closing minutes. We may have lost in overtime the way we were playing but at least we would have had a shot. None of this erases the fact that the team as a whole has serious focus and attitude issues to go along with some poor talent, but sometimes you have to win with a couple of breaks. Florida just can’t rely on the breaks to win every game. They have to go out and seize the victory.

    • This was the worst officiated game I have seen at the Swamp. Not the reason we lost though, KY punked our lines like high school kids. It was surreal to even watch the incompetence of our team last night. This was Kentucky, not Alabama. I don’t know who we can beat with these scrubs.

  4. While it would have been nice to steal a win from Ky, the way the defense played was atrocious and while overall the offense played ok in spots, the offensive line was just that…offensive!! Although Franks didn’t play as badly as he did last year, there was the one play near the goal line that he reverted. By taking a sack on second down instead of throwing the ball away into the end zone seats, he probably cost us 4 points (field goal vs touchdown). I’m lowering my expectations for this team and am looking for a winning season, if not that then at least progression of Franks, OLine and the defense. As a long time Gator fan, I was much more disappointed in their play then any other team on the field.

  5. Learn a lesson from tennis to use technology to solve a problem. I would bet someone could figure out how to set up laser beams and/or high speed cameras to make the right call every time. Heck, sell the naming rights like the “Canon Allstate gizmo laser cam” and they could probably get the systems installed for free.

      • agreed. and although we played pretty bad, with average officiating we at least go to OT if not have a lead to protect. so I’m not in the worst loss in gator history camp. I still think the Nebraska 63 to 24 tommy frazier national championship loss was worse…and we came back from it just fine! now I’m not suggesting an upcoming national championship any time soon, but can we just be realistic. most of these aren’t the players mullen really would have recruited except the freshmen. there are leadership issues. but most of the coaches are pretty good and will get production out of these athletes. they might get lucky and win a game or two more than you think.

  6. Guys guys guys all you have to look at is recruiting. Just look at Clemson Alabama Georgia and it pains me to say Ohio State all have way better players than us. We are bringing in guys that are 2 and 3 Star guys that aren’t translating on that level of competition on the field. Until we get better lineman on both sides, least Muschamp brought in some good talent on both sides when he was here . He just didn’t have the offensive talent of skill players. We are loosing all of our own state players to Clemson Alabama Georgia and Urban Liar just look at the rosters of these schools and see how many Floridians are on each of those teams past and present mind boggling

  7. The main problem I see with this early SEC loss and sudden exposure is that it probably impacts our recent recruiting momentum for 2019. Now if we rebound, find our soul, heart, and drive….not so much. We can still have a good season. 8-4? Possible. With this team? Yes, that is the challenge for Dan Mullen. (or his evil twin Skippy Mullens, who TampaGator will be on the lookout for). 👀

  8. High School football official here.

    I’m not defending the overall officiating here, but on this specific play, these were the angles I saw:

    Goalpost camera showing the ball appear to be above (possibly inside) the goalpost as it sailed past the crossbar.

    Field view (from both end zones) that showed the ball starting outside the goalpost and curving back, appearing to be inside the upright by the time it hit the net behind, some 10 yards beyond the goalposts.

    What I didn’t see (does it exist?) was the official’s view from directly under the upright. It’s entirely possible that the ball started outside, was still outside when it crossed over the upright, and had curved back in by the time it hit the net. I think of it as a pitcher’s curveball that appears to be over the plate when it hits the catcher’s mitt, but the overhead replay shows that it was outside as it crossed the plate area.

    Overall, as a high school official I thought these SEC officials did a very good job – they weren’t what cost us the game. A better kick (no-doubter) puts us in better position, but we lost this game in both trenches.