A controversial ruling on the field that Chris Leak fumbled the football in the fourth quarter Saturday night against Auburn may have been upheld by the man in the replay booth and supported by Southeastern Conference chief of officials Rogers Redding but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Florida coach Urban Meyer has to be satisfied with the decision.
On a third and three at the Auburn six late in the fourth quarter Saturday night, Leak dropped to pass and was under a heavy pass rush from Quentin Groves. Leak looked as if he threw the ball into the turf but there was no whistle and Auburn’s Tray Blackman scooped the ball up and returned it to the 38 yard line. The SEC officiating crew ruled the play a fumble and there was no attempt to call for a replay by the man in that booth, Al Ford. Meyer had to burn his last time out to challenge a play that should have been automatically reviewed in the booth according to SEC replay guidelines.
The on the field challenge was turned down by Ford in the replay booth. Normally, on a play this close and in a game as important as this, the replay official would take at least a couple of minutes to review the play from every possible angle. Considering ESPN was there with its full circle camera crew, there were far more replay angles available than normal. But, even with the technology available and even though it was clear that Leak’s arm was moving forward, Ford called it a fumble and allowed the call on the field to stand.
Redding, in a statement to the Gainesville Sun on Monday, said, “Al Ford did a major bowl game; he’s not some guy we brought in from the streets. If the ruling on the field was an incomplete pass, it would not have been reviewable. It was a tough call. But after looking at the different angles, there simply was not enough evidence to reverse the call. His arm was going forward, but it looked like he was trying to stop it when the ball came out.”
The rule says that if the arm is coming forward then it’s a pass and not a fumble but that seems to have escaped Redding. Meyer was clearly unhappy with the call but said he’s got more to deal with than SEC officials.
“I thought it was an incomplete pass,” said Meyer after practice Tuesday. “We talked to the SEC officials and they believe it was a correct ruling. I can sit and scream and yell and all that but we have too many other things to worry about.”
The bigger problem, according to Meyer was that he was forced to challenge a play that clearly should have been reviewed automatically by the replay official in the booth.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Meyer. “The way it worked I should never have to burn a time out and they agreed with that and they’re going to correct that issue.”
That issue might get corrected, but there is still the matter of what happened on the field.
“It looked to me like his arm was moving forward the ball came out,” said Meyer. “I think they’re staying he stopped and that’s when it came out … forward pass.”
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Meyer said the mood of his team is “complete devastation” after suffering the first defeat of the season but he believes his team will bounce back big. The Gators have a bye this Saturday so practice is only three days and then the team will get a couple of days off before regrouping and getting ready for Georgia.
“Complete devastation but you have to bounce back,” said Meyer. “The ‘96 football team did, the ‘06 basketball team did. We’ve all been around teams that have done that. These guys will bounce back. It will be good.”
The Gators are 4-1 in the SEC which puts them in first place in the East Division. Tennessee has only one loss (Vols are 1-1 in conference play) but Florida beat the Vols head to head in Knoxville so the Gators are still in control of their own destiny. Florida has SEC games with Georgia (in Jacksonville), Vanderbilt (in Nashville) and South Carolina (in Gainesville) remaining on the schedule. Tennessee plays Alabama, at South Carolina, LSU, at Arkansas, at Vanderbilt and then home on the final weekend of the season against Kentucky.
Meyer knows the Gators have three tough games remaining to clinch their first berth in the SEC title game since 2000. Getting to Atlanta has always been the goal.
“Our goal is to compete for the SEC championship and we’re doing that and we’re right in the middle of a tough stretch,” said Meyer. “The good thing is I think we’re relatively healthy. One thing about this team, they’re not stupid. We’ve got a bunch of smart players. When I had them walk in today we had a team meeting and behind me were the standings of the SEC and Florida was still up at first in the SEC East so that’s a good sign.”
Senior wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius appears to be the only first team player dinged up enough that he won’t practice this week. Meyer said the Cornelius was only at 80-90 percent in the Auburn game due to a hamstring problem.
The Gators will spend Wednesday’s practice in pads and then go in shorts on Thursday. They will have Friday and Saturday off before convening for meetings Sunday to begin preparation for Georgia.
“We’re not going to sit and build on mistakes, we’re going to fix mistakes and move forward,” said Meyer.
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Meyer was very disappointed that the Gators got to run only 45 plays against Auburn. The lack of plays can be directly attributed to the new NCAA clock rules which have been a source of displeasure for most coaches all season long. Meyer despises the new rules which have contributed to lower scores and fewer plays in practically all college football games this year. “I think it’s [the rule] going to change,” said Meyer. “It’s not a good rule. It’s a bad rule. It changes the whole way you call a game. It cheats the fans. It cheats the players. It cheats everybody involved in college football.” In Meyer’s first five years as a head coach, he had only three games where his teams had fewer than 60 plays in a game. There have been three this year. Florida lost several plays against Auburn due to turnovers. The Gators gave away an entire possession on a safety when a holding penalty was called in the end zone in the second quarter and the Gators turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter.
Meyer said that with the outstanding defenses in the SEC, the tendency of teams is to hold the ball and play ball control to avoid the possibility of turnovers.
“The SEC with the qualify of defenses and the way teams hold the ball you just don’t get many possessions,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen a team get just three possessions in the first half which is what we had.”
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Meyer said the Gators have to find ways to get the ball into the hands of Percy Harvin more often. The freshman sensation had four carries from the tailback position for 72 yards in the first half against Auburn but he only carried one time for negative six yards in the second half. The plan is to continue to use Harvin part of the time at tailback but he will also see action in the slot and out wide.
“I think he’s going to be a slash guy,” said Meyer. “You see a lot of people doing that across the country. USC did that with that Reggie Bush guy. He [Harvin] is good with the ball in his hands. He will carry the ball more.”
Harvin missed more than half of the Tennessee game, saw only brief action against Kentucky and Alabama, then sat out the LSU game completely because of a high ankle sprain. Now that he’s back at full speed the Gators need to take advantage of his ability to put pressure on the defense.
“I don’t know how many yards he had [against Auburn] but he made some big plays,” said Meyer. “He’s real effective and he’s going to do that more.”
Meyer also said that Bubba Caldwell showed signs in the Auburn game of being back completely to the fast, elusive playmaker that he was before he broke his leg in the 2005 Tennessee game.
“I thought Bubba did a helluva job,” said Meyer. “That’s the first time he’s been back and looking like that where we handed him the ball a few times [in the fourth quarter.”
The defenses in the SEC are so good that Meyer says you better have playmakers capable of making long gains or else you’re in trouble on offense.
“You need big plays in this conference,” he said. “You need big plays. To think you’re going to sit there and drive it, drive it, drive it, it’s not going to happen.”