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College Football/Illegal Touching

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Question
In the Oregon/Utah State fumble play, the defender covering the receiver (who dropped the ball on the one-yard line) ran out of bounds in the end zone.  He was the first to touch the ball coming back onto the field of play when the defense realized it was a fumble and not a Utah State touchdown.  Because the player went out of bounds, and was the first to touch the ball coming back in, shouldn't this have been illegal touching, and a touchback, instead of a 99 yard touchdown the other way?

Answer
Thank you for your question, the violation or foul you are referring to - Illegal touching, pertains to the illegal touching of a Forward Pass (ITP).  The forward pass was completed to the Utah Receiver who then ran and fumbled the ball before crossing the Goal line.  The touching was of a fumbled ball not a forward pass, thus there is no foul for illegal touching.

It cannot be a touch back because the ball remained a live or in play and was never dead by rule behind the goal line.   This play was correctly ruled.  

From a fan perspective it may be disappointing, but from a fan of the game of football, it is a very exciting play and a perfectly officiated play.  The Side Judge, Back Judge and Head Linesman were in perfect position to rule on this play and while the play continued the other officials also were staying with their duties and allowed the play to evolve naturally within the by rules.  The play correctly went to replay and the replay official reviewed multiple issues (whether the goal line was crossed, when the possession was lost, two fumbles and the immediate recovery, etc.) and he perfectly ruled as well.

TRACEY
LET ME FOLLOW UP ON THE TOUCHBACK AS PECT OF THIS PLAY FOR BETTER CLARIFICATION.  THERE COULD BE NO TOUCHBACK ON THIS PLAY AS IT PLAYED OUT.  HOWEVER IF THE OREGON PLAYERS DID NOT RECOVER THE BALL AND IT WAS ALLOWED TO REMAIN IN THE END ZONE LOOSE WITH NO ONE ATTEMPTING TO RECOVER IT, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A TOUCH DOWN FOR UTAH.

PLEASE KNOW THE RULEBOOK ADDRESSES THIS SITUATION:   Rule 7-2-5: "When a backward pass for fumble comes to rest inbounds and no player attempts to secure it, the ball becomes dead and belongs to the passing or fumbling team at the dead-ball spot."

See also A.R. 8.2.1.X:

X. Ball carrier A33 is running toward the Team B goal line. He drops the ball just inside the one-yard line and, thinking he has scored a touchdown, circles through the end zone and runs to his team area. There is no touchdown signal by any official. The fumbled ball hits the ground just outside or just inside the goal line, rolls along the ground in the end zone, and is declared dead there when it comes to rest and no player attempts to recover it.
RULING: Touchdown. The ball belongs to the team last in possession at the dead-ball spot. By definition an awarded fumble in the opponent’s end zone is a touchdown. (Rule 7-2-5)


I WANTED TO PROVIDE THIS INFORMATION SO IF YOU SEE THIS TYPE OF PLAY AGAIN YUO WILL UNDERSTAND THE RULE.  A RULE MANY FANS AND SOME COACHES DO NOT KNOW. MOST WOULD THINK IT SHOULD BE A TOUCHBACK IF NO ONE ATTEMPTED TO SECURE IT, NOT REALIZING TEAM POSSESSION IS NOT LOST ANDTHE BALL BELONGS TO THE TEAM LAST IN POSSESSION.


I HOPE THIS FURTHER EXPLAINS THE PLAY FOR YOU.

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Vic Winnek

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