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All Points West: Officials finally got it right
November 12, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
I got the feeling Saturday morning the Huskers weren’t about to lose this game. In watching the Michigan State Spartans almost lose last season when Nebraska attempted a late comeback capped by De’Mornay Pierson-El’s 62-yard punt-return for a touchdown. It was the Huskers third TD in the fourth quarter. On Nebraska’s final possession, Quarterback Tommy Armstrong was stopped short on the Michigan State 37 before his untimely push to get into the end zone resulted in an interception. The game ended, 27-22.

The word on the street in East Lansing was how the Spartans often ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. A soft defense by Michigan State allowed Nebraska back in the game. The better conditioned Huskers would have won with better execution. Would’ve, should’ve, could’ve. That’s how the ball bounces.

Fast-forward to this year, 2015. No Pierson-El due to a season ending injury, but a wiser more polished Armstrong. Home-field advantage. An angry and frustrated Nebraska fan base questioning what had become of Big Red football came out to support their beloved Huskers despite the six losses. And there was no Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi on the MSU sideline, not that it made a difference in this game. It was the perfect storm for things to finally go right for the Huskers.

However, Nebraska seems to be developing a habit of fighting from behind. I’m going to start calling these guys the cardiac kids.

This wasn’t about saving face because of what fans were saying about a Cornhusker season gone awry. This was partly revenge, and for coming up short in the previous year. This was partly about all the bad calls that didn’t go Nebraska’s way early this season, or any season. I can remember a whole host of them from the Huskers’ days playing the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12. The first significant no-call of the season was during the early going against the BYU Cougars on Sept. 5, when Tight End David Sutton was hit after already going out of bounds long after the play was called dead. Sutton’s knee was injured on the play and he was carted off the field. The targeting no-call by the officials was loudly booed. After the game, to my knowledge there was no real mention of the no-call, at least not by Big Red fans who tend to stay relatively behaved on Social Media. Then again, the call wasn’t game deciding. But then there’s the rub. How many no-calls or calls that have gone either way ever get called into question unless they can potentially decide a game? Any coach will tell you each play counts, and every action and reaction adds up. About fouls, they will tell players, don’t make them.
As for no-calls against Michigan State, what’s the explanation for not calling pass interference on MSU’s Defensive Back Arjen Colquhoun when he hooked Alonzo Moore’s arm during Nebraska’s early fourth quarter drive with the Huskers on the move deep in Michigan State territory? To my knowledge, officials don’t consciously try to balance things out during the course of a game. Although Michigan State’s Jermaine Edmondson was stride for stride with Wide Receiver Brandon Reilly on that final play which sealed a Big Red victory, there was indeed contact between the two players. In my judgement, the video replays weren’t enough to overturn the officials’ decision for signaling a touchdown. By the time, the officials’ hands went up, it was a moot point. I may be overanalyzing, but Reilly’s a relatively big guy – 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. Michigan State’s already stunned wheezing defense may have been tapping into every trick in the book.

According to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, the Big Ten officiating chief Bill Carollo said, “It’s not the degree of contact. Is there contact that puts the receiver out of bounds? [The field judge] makes that decision immediately, throws his hat. When he comes back in, he doesn’t throw his flag for illegal touching. ... Slight contact with him could put him two or three inches [out of bounds] or three yards or three steps. It’s all based on his speed. They both are trying to get to the ball. They came back immediately. The three steps out of bounds, that’s nothing.”

Big Ten officials later confirmed the video replay cannot re-officiate a decision on the field. It ends up being made on the live judgement of the official – the same way things were decided when there was, in the opinion of officials, no infraction against Colquhoun early in the fourth quarter.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion moving forward, it’s in the books. A win improves Nebraska’s overall record to 4-6 and 2-4 in conference. But more than trying to gain any advantage in the standings or get the call for a bowl game, most likely Nebraska WILL go bowling. It’s because the Huskers’ win came against the No. 6 ranked Michigan State Spartans who came into Lincoln the heavy favorites. The Spartans also were seen by the playoffs committee – college football experts – as a team who had a good chance of winning a playoff game. But how closely does the committee look at strength of schedule or quality wins? If you’ll recall, Sparty barely beat the Purdue Boilermakers, who in turn beat Nebraska. Granted, the Huskers weren’t up to full strength. Nor were they in the right frame of mind. MSU also beat Michigan on a fluke play in the closing moments of their game – a little bit of mismanagement on the Wolverine’s part, but hey, a win is a win, right Michigan State?

Next up: Nebraska visits the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, N.J. The Knights are 3-6 overall with only one conference win. They lost to Michigan last week, 49-16, and have no notable wins except in Week 6 against the Indiana Hoosiers, who have shown they can hang with the big boys. The game was a shoot-out which ended, 55-52, and no visible signs of defense on either side. That bodes well for the Huskers who seem to be ironing out matters in the secondary. Yet, Huskers must beware the big-win hangover from excessive celebration off the field.

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