September 19, 2010
Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31 (Overtime). First, let us revel in the overflowing testosterone of Michigan State's instantly legendary "Little Giants" play, so named for the stones on coach Mark Dantonio for daring to eschew the obvious field goal to tie Notre Dame in overtime in favor of letting his holder put the ball in the air for the win on 4th-and-13:
That's the kind of call, if it goes the other way, that can help get you fired later on, which is part of its brilliance in the "so crazy it might actually work" sense. Twice down the stretch, Irish coach Brian Kelly elected to kick on 4th-and-1 with the score tied, punting with the ball at his own 43 with two minutes to play in regulation and taking the field goal with the ball at the MSU 16 in the first frame of overtime. With just a yard to go, neither decision would have been quite as crazy in theory as the Michigan State's tricky gambit to win. In practice, the Spartans are 3-0, and Kelly's Irish are 1-2. This time, the meek did not inherit the victory.
Now: As usual, a close, hard-fought loss inevitably means angst and a deep sense of injustice. And because we're on the Internet, thanks to the majesty of the DVR, these feelings can be instantly documented:
Watch the video again; play it in full-screen, if necessary, and keep an eye on both ESPN's play clock in the lower right and the harder-to-discern scoreboard play clocks at the top. If you want to get really technical about it, yes, the snap came a couple of nanoseconds after the play clock had expired. When reviewed in slow-mo replay, that looks like a delay of game. Certain Twitter accounts and Notre Dame message boards are very interested in this point.
Brian Kelly's official stance: "Did not see it. Did not see the play clock at that point. Don't think there's any instant replay after the fact." Of course, he's right, about the replay rule and his general acceptance: In real time, the difference in the clock striking zero and the snap of the ball is too miniscule to register, much less to blow a whistle and throw a flag on a technicality that has no effect on the play. If they call the penalty, OK. If not, well, OK. Mark Dantonio might have found himself in the same position if the flag had somehow come out, and the answer for him would have been the same: Deal with it.
As whineable moments go, the borderline validity of this one for people who don't mind being petty and annoying over a nanosecond will probably keep the whine going strong for longer than usual (as I predict the comments below will amply demonstrate); if the loss winds up meaning anything to Notre Dame's record in terms of a BCS game, or even getting back above .500, it will make its way into the repertoire of close calls and pereceived snubs that always accompany those kinds of debates for the rest of the year. Long after everyone has forgotten the play clock, though, the Spartans' "Little Giants" will still be a classic in crunch-time guts. And Michigan State will have the win.
[UPDATE, 7/19, 1:02 p.m.] Big East officiating coordinator Terry McAulay has affirmed the no-call was correct: "Proper mechanics dictate that [the back judge's] focus be directed tothe play clock as it approaches zero. When the play clock display readszero, he must re-direct his attention to the ball. At that time, if thesnap has not started, a flag will be thrown for delay of game. If thesnap has begun, no flag will be thrown. ...On the play in question, this lag time created the situation where it appears the play clock expired just before the snap. We believe the snap occurred well within the normal lag time for the Back Judge to make this determination."
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Photo: Ochocinco's new ride looks a lot like a Batmobile
• Key MMA fight ends in disappointment all around
• Video: Soccer player scores 'goal of the season'