College football is back, and if you’re a huge college football fan like me, you couldn’t be happier about it. But I probably wasn’t as excited for the beginning of the season as Vanderbilt fans – they opened the 2012 season, following a huge improvement in 2011 and dramatically upgraded recruiting under coach James Franklin, at home against No. 9 South Carolina last night. And while the Commodores were clear underdogs, the first game is always a crapshoot, they had home-field advantage, and they do have some talent, so if they could just keep it close, this was exactly the kind of game where they could be primed to pull an upset.
And keep it close they did – so close that, late in the fourth quarter, they were driving with a chance to win the game. Sure, they needed a touchdown against South Carolina’s stingy defense, but they had a shot. It proved, though, to be a long shot: South Carolina forced Vandy into a 4th-and-7 on its own 38-yard line. Vandy went for it. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers (yes, Aaron’s brother) heaved the ball downfield. And then…
I’ll admit: at first, I chalked up receiver Jordan Matthews’ disbelief at the non-call to players always feeling sure they got the shaft – plus that referees are generally less inclined to make a pass interference call at that critical a juncture in the game (“let the players decide,” and all that). And then… the replays happened. Yes, Vanderbilt, you’re allowed to get mad at that being a non-call.
In fairness, the call didn’t end the game (Vandy came close to getting the ball back on the ensuing possession, forcing a 3rd-and-5, but South Carolina picked up a first down, effectively sealing the deal). But “Vandy with a 1st-and-10 and 15 extra yards” is obviously a rather different scenario from “South Carolina ball with Vandy needing to stop them and frantically call all their timeouts once they do.” Any game is bigger than one call or non-call – but this non-call was, indeed, the definition of pass interference. If you work with any Vanderbilt fans, tread lightly today.