Monday, January 3, 2011

Tar Heels rightly won and deserved to win Music City Bowl

Despite the griping and moaning about North Carolina being the beneficiaries of late-game breaks, the Tar Heels not only deserved to win the Music City Bowl they rightly won the game.

The pro-Tennessee factions on the Internet are claiming that Volunteer defender Janzen Jackson should not have been called for a personal foul for leading with his helmet in hitting UNC receiver Todd Harrelson late in the game. Please look at the attached photo above and judge for yourself but, unless you're in denial, you'll see it's obvious that Jackson led with his head.

Then they argue that Harrelson didn't have possession of the ball following Jackson's illegal hit until he was out of bounds. Having looked at the replay several times, not only is there no indisputable evidence that it wasn't a catch, to me it looks as if his right shoulder hits down in bounds. There certainly was nothing in the replays that would overturn the officials call that Harrelson had possession of the ball in bounds.

Then they argue that Carolina's poor time management at the end should have cost them the game. Funny thing is that a late hit perhaps should have been called on Tennessee's LaMarcus Thompson following a Dwight Jones catch. That would have moved the ball to about the 12 yard line and stopped the clock. Had that happened, as perhaps it should have, there would have been no clock issues at the end. Volunteer fans have a point that UNC's Ryan Taylor made contact with Thompson but clearly to me it wasn't enough to make Thompson pop Jones like he did.

I certainly could forget about that late-hit call except for the fact that some argue that when TJ Yates alertly spiked the ball with one second left, Carolina should have been called for a 15-yard illegal participation penalty rather than a 5-yard too many men on the field call. If the late hit had been called and the illegal participation penalty had been called, the final field goal still would have been from approximately the same distance.

Even if a 15-yard penalty had been assessed, Casey Barth very well could have hit a 49-yarder to send the game into overtime. Not only has he missed just one field goal from longer than 40 yards this year, he's hit a 49-yarder this season.

Then they argue that, by rule, the official should have stood over the ball as time expired in order to allow the defense to adjust. Now can you imagine the uproar if time ran out because an official wouldn't get out of the way so Carolina could spike the ball? To me that would have been a much bigger injustice.

Yes, it was rather stupid that the Heels had players running all over the place in the final seconds. But would the NFL's 10-second runoff rule really have been justice. Carolina was rightly penalized - should they have gotten the death penalty for confusion?

I may be the only person alive that doesn't like the NFL's 10-second runoff rule - when an offensive foul occurs in the final 10 seconds, the game is over. The game should be played until it's over, especially if the ball is spiked or otherwise time is legally stopped (running out of bounds, incomplete pass, etc.)

David Parry, who oversees college football officiating for the NCAA, said that he anticipates that the NCAA rules committee would discuss moving to the NFL 10-second runoff rule. He also correctly said that under current college rules (which both teams had to play by I might add) the officials, as bad as they were (my words and you can read more about that here), correctly adjusted the clock to one second.

What everyone seems to be forgetting is that the penalty didn't give Carolina another play. The legal spike by Yates gave Carolina another play. Again, the Tar Heels were appropriately penalized on the play.

Then the pro-Tennessee factions say that as soon as Carolina lined up for the field goal, the clock should have started and that one second is not enough time to snap the ball. If one second isn't enough time to snap the ball, then games should end a second earlier. I'm not sure I follow that logic. Of course you can snap the ball as soon as time is started and it appears that's what Carolina did.

While everyone is focused on the last 31 seconds, perhaps more attention should be paid to some other factors. For instance, Carolina held Tennessee to 27 yards rushing. UNC held the lead for most of the game. UNC blocked a PAT that allowed for the last-second efforts. Plus, Tennessee got away with several taunting and excessive celebrations after touchdowns.

If you wanna get specific
If you really want to get touchy, Tennessee often had linemen or backs moving on the snap of the ball on key plays and it was never called. In addition, tackle Ja’Wuan James, on most obvious passing situations, lined up off the line of scrimmage, meaning there weren't enough players on the line. He sometimes lined up a yard and a half to two yards off the line of scrimmage. This gives a lineman a pass protection advantage.

To be specific, on a third-and-two play on the opening drive, Tennessee receiver Gerald Jones went into motion and as he came to a stop he went forward a half yard. You can't move forward before the snap of the ball. The Volunteers converted that key play.

On a third-and-one play in Carolina territory in the first quarter, Tennessee's left guard Jarrod Shaw started early. It wasn't called. The Volunteers converted. Later in the same drive, on third and 10, James once again lined up well off the line of scrimmage and then came out of his stance before the snap of the ball. Neither was called. The Volunteers threw for nine yards, went for it on fourth down, got it, and then threw a touchdown to tie the score.

In the second quarter, on a second-and-10 play from their own 15, Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera moved early. It wasn't called and Rivera caught a pass for a first down.

On the play where UNC's Kendric Burney intercepted the ball and then fumbled it right back, James was lined up in the backfield. Instead of Tennessee getting a fresh set of downs, had the penalty been called, the Volunteers would have had a second-and-19 situation at their own 21-yard line.

On Tennessee's 45-yard TD pass play in the second quarter, while a beautiful play, tackle Daniel Hood could very easily have been called for holding UNC's Jared McAdoo.

On Tennessee's key third-and-18 play on the fourth quarter scoring drive to put them ahead, the Volunteers passed for 20 yards down to Carolina 8 yard line. Good thing for Tennessee that the officials didn't see James move a tad early once again.

Yet on the ensuing Carolina drive the officials, having not called any of the motion penalties pointed out above, had the nerve to call a phantom illegal shift on a play where the Tar Heels went 25 yards into Volunteer territory with four minutes left. Then a couple of plays later, when Tennessee was offsides, the Tar Heels should have gotten a free play but officials wrongly blew the play dead.

But the same eagle-eye officials saw UNC's Dwight Jones apparently step on the chalk on a play where he had picked up a key first down. Instead a penalty was called on Carolina for illegal touching.

Two plays later the officials charged UNC's TJ Yates with intentional grounding because the ball didn't make it to the line of scrimmage. Of course that's pretty hard to do with defensive players hanging all over you.

Carolina, suddenly dealing with stickler officials, failed to convert on a fourth-down play with 1:36 to play and the game appeared to be over. But Tennessee played it conservatively and couldn't get a first down, punting it back to UNC with 31 seconds to go and setting up the wild finish.

With 31 seconds left in the game, Carolina had 10 penalties and Tennessee had five. Late in the game and in overtime, Tennessee self destructed with three key penalties.

My point is that the game could have changed on any number of plays throughout the game, and that officials generally did not favor Carolina as some post-game analysts have suggested. In fact, if anything, the officials, who you remember wrongly called the game over and thus gave Tennessee the win when there was really a second left, hurt the Tar Heels more than the Volunteers.

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