Two plays that Ohio State Buckeyes players, coaches and fans won't soon forget.
The nation's second-ranked team succumbed to defending national champion Clemson in Saturday's College Football Playoff, falling to the Tigers in the final moments, 29-23, in an instant classic out West.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence led a four-play, 94-yard drive and threw the go-ahead 34-yard touchdown pass to Travis Etienne with 1:49 left as the Tigers overcame a 16-point deficit, aided by two momentum-changing calls from an SEC officiating crew that took the brunt of it on social media.
The first play in question came with 4:47 left in the second quarter when Ohio State defensive back Shaun Wade was ejected for targeting after making contact with Lawrence's helmet on a third-down sack. Lawrence appeared to crouch before the hit to absorb the impact, which caused the crown of Wade's helmet to make jarring contact with the quarterback's lid.
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day at halftime questioned the call, a decision that seemed to ignite the Tigers on their 14-point run to end the first half.
The next debated whistle came midway through the third quarter when Ohio State defensive back Jordan Fuller scooped and scored what was initially ruled a fumble by Clemson wideout Justyn Ross near the sideline. But instead of a game-changing touchdown, which would've given the Buckeyes a 23-21 lead, was overturned upon review after officials determined Ross never had full control of the football.
Terry McAulay, a a veteran NFL referee, vehemently disagreed with the call that took a touchdown off the board for Ohio State. As you can see, Ross makes the reception and appears to take at least three steps before being stripped by Buckeyes star cornerback Jeffery Okudah. This was ruled a fumble on the field and was later reversed to an incomplete pass after the replay official deemed Ross not making a "football move" after the reception.
The reversal sent Day into a tizzy and resulted in several tweets from high-ranking media members like this take from FS1's Joel Klatt. Klatt touches on both controversial calls during the game that, without a doubt, impacted the final result of a classic battle in the College Football Playoff. Klatt puts the blame on the replay official here, who he says did an awful job on Saturday night in Phoenix.
The other play that was a 50-50 judgment call was Wade's sack of Lawrence in the second quarter. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith believes the decision to eject Wade was abhorrent and should've never been considered since Lawrence brought on the helmet to helmet contact by lowering his head.
This is what was so mind-boggling about the replay crew's decision to reversal the call on the Ross fumble. Since it was called a turnover in real-time, "indisputable video evidence" is needed to change the call on the field and, if anything, slowing down the footage make the cough up on the turf even more egregious.
Herein lies the issue most are having with the final ruling — the replay backed up the referee's initial call of a strip, scoop and defensive touchdown for the Buckeyes. In real-time, it looked like Ross never had possession of the football and Okudah dislodged it with a swipe of his arm. But it wasn't called incomplete on the field and replays provided proof it was closer to a fumble — given the receiver's multiple steps — than it was an incompletion.
One of Alabama's big radio guys, Ryan Fowler, reminds us this SEC crew — one that butchered a call or two in the Iron Bowl last month — was the group working on Saturday evening. The most controversial call in Auburn's win over Alabama involved an extra second being added to the clock at the end of the first half that resulted in a field goal from the Tigers. Auburn, with no timeouts, was in Alabama's territory and ran a screen pass over the middle and was allowed to huddle and spike the ball to kill clock with 1 second left — despite time appearing to expire.
SEC Network and ESPN college football analyst Marcus Spears didn't like the call — among thousands of others on Twitter. Spears has been quite vocal on his thoughts this season concerning targeting, a penalty the NCAA made it a focus to crack down on during the offseason. While Wade's hit on Lawrence met the criteria, it wasn't malicious and as we've mentioned, appeared to be aided by the offensive player lowering his head in an effort to absorb the sack. Lack of consistency on what defines targeting is the underlying point with all of these takes. People just want a clearer definition of what warrants an ejection.