The final minutes of Arizona State’s 32-30 defeat of Wisconsin were an exercise in the confounding. After marching down the field well within field goal range, Badger quarterback Joel Stave moved the ball to the middle of the field.
Here’s where it got weird.
Stave set the ball down without taking a knee or being tackled. He was officially giving himself up, a rule not often invoked. One can refer to a controversial ruling involving Victor Cruz two seasons ago in the NFL.
Officially, Stave ended the play. It was a bizarre decision, and looked very much like a fumble. To that end, Arizona State linebacker Anthony Jones smothered the ball. Jones remained on top of it for several seconds, effectively running off the the final seconds and preventing the Badgers from snapping to spike it and bring on their field goal unit.
Jones’ savvy move was, in fact, a penalty. But the officials in charge of the game threw no flags. Instead, they allowed time to expire and immediately ran off the field, as the Sun Devils poured onto it from the sidelines.
A screencap appears to show Stave taking a knee with 17 seconds remaining — more than enough time for Wisconsin to spike, then bring on its kicking unit:
Stave's knee down with :17 left. welp. pic.twitter.com/MaeMdZ2gzc
— Lana Berry (@Lana) September 15, 2013
ASU scored a big win over a Top 25 opponent, and put itself in the right position to start its difficult four-game stretch that also includes games against Stanford, USC and Notre Dame.
Wisconsin returns to Madison for a Big Ten Conference tilt left to wonder what if.
While the Badgers go back to Madison with a loss, the Pac-12 might ultimately suffer. Officials have been center in at least one other bizarre end-of-game decisions that cost ranked visitors from other conferences dearly. The end of the Oklahoma-Oregon game in 2006 remains a benchmark for late game officiating ineptitude.
Certainly Wisconsin returns to Big Ten country with a valid gripe about its sole blemish on the early season docket.
The Badgers nearly exploited some perplexing play-calling from ASU head coach Todd Graham down the stretch.
Trying to run down the clock in the final minutes, Graham called for a pass on a second long that went incomplete. The decision forced ASU into another pass play on third down, which also went incomplete.
On Wisconsin’s ensuing possession, Graham declined a holding penalty that would have pushed the Badgers back near their own goal line, facing a 1st down and 15. Instead on 2nd and 10, Stave found Jeff Duckworth for a 51-yard gain that was nearly the deciding play.
Of course, Duckworth’s gain is a play some could contend offsets the botched final call by the officials. One replay angle seemed to show Duckworth stepping out-of-bounds almost 20 yards further up-field than his final positioning at the ASU 26-yard line.
Video evidence was not entirely conclusive though, allowing the play to stand. The judgment call on the video monitor was a much less clear decision than the botched delay of game that ultimately ended what was otherwise an outstanding contest between two teams that could be in the hunt for their respective conference championships by season’s end.