USC got a little help from officials in its 31-28 win over Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night.
Trailing 24-21 in the fourth quarter with eight minutes to go, Stanford chose to go for it on fourth and goal. The play was a handoff to Cameron Scarlett, and he was stopped short of the goal line by Uchenna Nwosu.
Or was he?
Scarlett landed on one of his own lineman after Nwosu hit him. He never hit the ground.
If you want a clearer shot, look at this still photo.
So what the heck happened? Well, the side judge at the top of the screen quickly ran in to blow the play dead. He either incorrectly thought that Scarlett hit the ground or incorrectly thought Scarlette’s forward progress was stopped.
You can see him here rushing in to stop the play as Scarlett’s right leg is planting to push himself forward.
It’s no guarantee that Scarlett gets into the end zone on his second effort. We can’t tell from the replays if he would have broken the plane of the goal line and assuming things after a whistle blows is always a tough assumption.
At worst, the premature whistle denied Stanford the opportunity to go up 28-24 with eight minutes to go. At best, USC would have stopped Scarlett’s second effort and still gotten the ball back on downs. We can’t say either of those scenarios would have happened for sure.
What did happen, however, was a game-clinching touchdown. After getting the ball on its own 1, USC went on a drive that was the dagger for the Cardinal. And, if you believe Scarlett would never have scored, a ball don’t lie moment.
The Trojans covered 99 plays in a cool eight plays and 3:38 to take a 31-21 lead on an eight-yard run by running back Ronald Jones. That was Jones’ second touchdown of the night, an evening where he ran for 140 yards on 30 carries.
It turned out to be the game-winning score after Stanford scored to cut the deficit to three with just over two minutes left. The Cardinal never got the ball back after USC chose to go for it on fourth down with less than 40 seconds left. The Trojans converted on a Sam Darnold pass to Josh Falo and ran out the clock with one more play.
Darnold, the preseason Heisman favorite who isn’t winning the award next week, had a spectacular night. He finished 17-24 passing for 325 yards and two scores, making throws that NFL scouts will be drooling over.
Stanford running back Bryce Love — the guy who will finish a likely second to Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield in the Heisman voting — had a decent night too. And he did it on one healthy ankle. Battling a right high-ankle sprain that’s been plaguing him for the second half of the season, Love rushed 22 times for 125 yards and a score.
With the win, USC finishes the season 11-2 before heading to its bowl game, likely the Fiesta Bowl. Stanford, meanwhile, is 8-4 and awaits its bowl fate. The Cardinal’s most likely bowl options are the Alamo, Holiday and Foster Farms bowls.
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