This past Saturday, Washington went to Salt Lake City and pulled out a 31-24 win over Utah to keep their dreams of making the College Football Playoff intact.
The game, as expected, was a very physical game. With both teams seemingly not giving an inch and both teams matching the other score, the game would come down to one big play.
With 3:40 to go in the game, and facing a 4th and 9 from their own 3 yard line, Utah had to punt the ball away to Washington. What followed was a 55 yard booming punt, but a subsequent 58 yard return for what would be the game winning score for Washington.
Utah had this punt covered beyond well. Granted, Dante Pettis for Washington made some brilliant moves on the return, however it is the “help” that he received on the punt that I want to focus on.
Now as a former coach, the one thing I always harp on is that a game cannot come down to blaming one person, one call, or one mistake. That is not what I am doing here. Utah did get the ball back after the return and drove to the Washington 26, but then turned the ball over on downs. So, this play while it did decide the game on the scoreboard was not the ultimate decision maker for the whole game. I am merely showing how Washington got some “help” with some missed calls.
When you look at frame 1 below, as Pettis catches the punt, Utah has the sideline to the near side closed off. Very well covered, giving Pettis no room to do anything but return to the middle of the field. This is what you want to have happen in this situation as there are more bodies coming down the field in the middle than there are on the sidelines.
It is at this point where things start to go wrong for the Utes. Poor tacking angles cost them a chance to get Pettis down on about the Washington 41. You have two Utah players chasing rather than trying to get in front of Pettis and either 1. Cut him off or 2. Make him bounce the play more towards his right, toward the Utah sideline. These poor angles lead to the two Utah players cutting each other off and colliding with one another.
Also in this same frame comes the “help” that I talked about earlier. Highlighted in blue is a missed block in the back. Now, officials are not perfect people. Trust me, I know. I used to ride officials the whole game. But, what happened in this frame above and the two frames below are THREE missed block in the back calls, which is inexcusable for an officiating crew to miss on one play. At that point Utah was playing 7 on 11 taking the punter out of consideration.
Once Pettis was clear of the last block above and making a Utah defender miss on the 42 yard line, it was smooth sailing all the way down the sidelines for the 58 yard, what would be the game winner.
Again, I am not saying the officials cost Utah the game by no means. There were two occasions on this play alone that Utah had chances to handle things on their own, and again, Utah got the ball back with time to drive down to tie the game, only to turn the ball over on downs. Utah has only Utah to blame. Washington made the plays they had to. The return by Pettis was a beyond athletic play by him. But make no mistake, the fact that the officiating crew missed three blocks on the biggest play of the game that helped determine the winner is a shame on such a big stage with so much on the line.