September 11, 2011
USC 23, Utah 14.
When USC left the field Saturday night, it was with a hard-fought, narrow 17-14 escape in its first Pac-12 game — in the first Pac-12 game, period — over Utah. By the time the Trojans began drifting into dreamland on the West Coast, the final score officially read 23-14, recording a solid, two-score USC victory. How did that happen?
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The short answer is: Because the Pac-12 said so. On the final play of the game, with Utah down 17-14 and lining up for a 41-yard field goal attempt to tie, 6-foot-7 USC offensive lineman Matt Kalil went up to swat the kick away — directly into the arms of USC cornerback Torin Harris, who took it the distance for an uncontested touchdown as time expired. As the Trojans stormed the field and gamblers everywhere fell off their barstools (see below), an official dropped a flag: Most of USC's bench had begun sprinting onto the field as soon as Harris had begun sprinting toward the Utah end zone, triggering an easy penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Thus did the Trojans become the first victims — at least temporarily — of the controversial new taunting rule adopted over the offseason, which calls for unsportsmanlike calls against the scoring team during the course of a touchdown play ("live-ball" penalties) to negate the touchdown itself. Since USC's bench turned the field into a stampede long before Harris crossed the goal line, officials accordingly took his touchdown off the board and called the game as a 17-14 final. Oh well: A conference win is a conference win.
But Las Vegas didn't quite see it that way, and to the great fortune of the betters who put money on the Trojans as 8.5-point favorites to win, neither did the Pac-12. A couple hours after the game went final, the conference announced it had decided to count Harris' touchdown, on the grounds that the unsportsmanlike call against the USC bench was committed by players who weren't involved in an active play (a "dead-ball" penalty), and dead-ball penalties do not trigger the new taunting rule. The touchdown was restored, and the final score now reads USC 23, Utah 14.
And from the desert, there came great lamentations:
Contacted about the finish by The [Los Angeles] Times, a supervisor at the MGM Mirage Sports Book said, "That cost us huge. We needed USC to cover the 8½ and when they didn't allow that touchdown, that killed us."
The switch, he said, made for a six-figure loss for his sports book.
"Now we lose double," he said, "because we'd already cashed out. We can't collect from people we already paid."
See? At first, everyone complained about the new taunting rule, but the first time it's invoked, literally everybody wins. Now, as long as it's getting into the business of retroactively righting on-field wrongs, what does the Pac-12 have to say about this?
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