The Official Explanation for the Bell Interception and Other Oddities from Ohio State–Penn State

By Jason Priestas on October 26, 2014 at 7:45 am
Christian Hackenberg following Vonn Bell's first quarter interception.

Penn State fans are an interesting lot. Like most fans, they're largely a good group, passionate about their team like fans of any other program.

However, the lunatic fringe in the Penn State fanbase is more lunatic-y than the fringes of just about every other fanbase. Whether it's the NCAA punishing the school and Joe Paterno too harshly for the Jerry Sandusky scandal, or just calls that have gone against the program in games against Michigan and Ohio State, somebody powerful is out to get the Nittany Lions.

In last night's 31–24 double-overtime loss to Ohio State, the fringe – as well as the not-so-fringe – had reason to be upset.

The first call to go against the Nittany Lions came on Penn State's first drive of the game. On 1st-and-10 from his own 36, quarterback Christian Hackenberg dropped back to pass only to see Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee closing in. Rushed, Hackenberg was unable to set before he threw and rushed an out to the sideline that Buckeye safety Vonn Bell stepped in front of for an interception.

Or was it?

GIF: One angle of Vonn Bell's first quarter interception at Penn State

Bell sold the play well, hopping up quickly and that probably helped lead to the play being called an interception on the field, but a closer look reveals the tip of the football hitting the turf before it was secured.

Here's a better angle of the play:

GIF: Close-up replay of Vonn Bell's first quarter interception of Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg

Yeah, that's not a pick. But the play was upheld following a lengthy review, leading to a cascade of boos at Beaver Stadium.

Ezekiell Elliott would go on to score on Ohio State's ensuing possession, putting the Buckeyes up 7–0.

In the second quarter, still leading 7–0, Ohio State lined up for a 49-yard field goal attempt. Freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger nailed the kick, putting the Buckeyes up by 10, but a closer look shows the play clock had expired prior to the attempt. In fact, Ohio State didn't snap the ball until at least two full seconds – maybe three – after the play should have been whistled dead. No flag.

GIF: Ohio State gets a free kick.

That's 10 points in a 31–24 double overtime game. But how did it happen?

Following the game, a Penn State pool reporter caught up with referee John O'Neil and replay official Tom Fiedler. Here's what they had to say about the Bell interception:

Q: The Ohio State Interception in the first quarter, was there a problem with the two replay feeds on that?
O’Neill: The play technically was not thoroughly reviewed due to some technical difficulties with the equipment.

Q: In a case like that when the main feed and the back-up feed are not available, is there any provision that can you look at the in-house feed to get a back-up to get a look at that?
O’Neill: The feeds that the replay team looks at are the feeds you get at home. We can’t create our own rules. The replay rules are clear that we have to use the equipment provided. So, Tom (Fiedler) and the team reviewed what they had.

Q: Then there’s no provision to look at the in-house feed then?
O’Neill: Right.

Sounds like a case of the replay equipment not working when the Penn State faithful most needed it to work. You have cause to be upset, Penn State fans. But, could you imagine the outrage among Penn State fans if the replay equipment had failed at Ohio Stadium instead of Beaver Stadium?

What about the delay of game that turned into a field goal?

Q: On Ohio State’s 49-yard field goal, there were some television replays that looked like the clock had run out and maybe two or three seconds had passed the zeros when the clock had run out. Was there any review of that?
O’Neill: No.

Q: Is that something that if you see it in the booth that you can buzz down or is that not a situation that is reviewable?
Fiedler: That is not reviewable in terms of when the ball is snapped in relationship to the zeros on the clock.

That's just a case of the officials missing the play on the field with no chance for a replay to overturn the kick. Being a second late on delay of game penalties is one thing, but two to three seconds is pretty much unheard of.

Officials make bad calls all of the time. Whether it's the aforementioned non-calls, a missed eye gouging or a phantom roughing the passer call against Curtis Grant (that was too rough for a replay, evidently), it's hard to get every play right. But you're excused for being a little saltier than usual this time, Penn State fans.

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