STILLWATER — A fumble? Or not a fumble?
That is the question Mike Gundy had as the Oklahoma State coach returned to his office Sunday morning. When flipping on the game film from the Cowboys' wild 41-36 loss to Texas, the first play he wanted to watch was the disputed go-ahead touchdown run by Joe Bergeron in the final minute that ultimately gave Texas the victory.
As Bergeron plowed toward the end zone, the ball was knocked free by the helmet of OSU linebacker Alex Elkins — perhaps before it crossed the goal line — and safety Daytawion Lowe surged into the pile of bodies and emerged with the ball. The call on the field was touchdown, and it was reviewed by the replay booth and confirmed.
So … a fumble? Or not a fumble?
“I think it's a fumble,” Gundy said. “I don't know what else to say.”
It was a change in tune from Gundy's postgame press conference late Saturday night, when he hadn't yet gotten the benefit of seeing the play from multiple camera angles. He was just taking the word of Lowe, who was adamant he had recovered the fumble. “I'm not commenting on officiating, but our guy said (Bergeron) fumbled and he got it,” Gundy said then.
Gundy pointed to several other things that cost the Cowboys in Saturday's shoot-out. They didn't convert on third down on their final drive and had to settle for a field goal. And they consistently could not stop the Longhorns on third and fourth down, especially on a critical fourth-and-6 from the UT 29 that resulted in a 29-yard catch and run to help set up the game-winning score.
But he admitted that call at the goal line stung.
“Just because we coach our players to fight until the very end — half-yard line, 2-yard line, 4-yard line,” Gundy said. “Alex Elkins did a great job of putting his helmet on the football, and that's what he's coached to do.
“I was disappointed from that standpoint, but there's nothing you can do. You've just got to move forward.”
Gundy said he paid attention on film to who made the call, and where and when it occurred. The signal came from the head linesman, Brad Edwards, who sprinted from his spot on the goal line on the UT sideline to the pile and put his arms in the air while Lowe was sitting on the turf, holding the ball and pleading his case to the umpire, Scott Teifer.
Fox officiating expert Mike Pereira said during the game broadcast that because officials ruled the play a touchdown, an OSU player would have needed to clearly recover the ball before the scrum for the call to be overturned by replay.
Additionally, a Big 12 source said conference officials determined Sunday that the original replay decision was correct, that there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the touchdown.
An officiating source explained that a runner ruled to have scored a touchdown is covered by the same rule as a runner called down in the middle of the field. Even if replay shows that the fumble occurred before the touchdown or before the runner is down, there must be “clear recovery in an immediate, continuing action … once the ball gets lost in the pile, clear goes away.”
Officiating, of course, is often a hot-button topic in sports. It has arguably reached an all-time high with replacement refs during the first three weeks of the NFL season, culminating with a controversial call on Monday Night Football less than a week ago. Officials awarded Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate a touchdown on a Hail Mary play as time expired when it appeared Green Bay Packers' safety M.D. Jennings had come down with the interception.
Obviously, the fumble/no fumble call at BPS Saturday night was not nearly as egregious. It's not even the biggest reason why the Cowboys lost the game. But it was still a crucial moment in a crucial game.
Gundy said he has not actively sought a deeper explanation of the play and call, but thinks he could get one from the conference in the coming days. He's also never been fined by the Big 12 for speaking out about officiating.
And since that Sunday-morning viewing session, Gundy has not brought that call up to his team or coaches. And it's certainly not something the Cowboys plan to dwell on as they head into their second bye week.
“They won't,” Gundy said. “In that area, (the players) are fairly well-trained. They know that they can't change calls. I have not heard one comment from them. It hasn't been discussed with anybody on our coaching staff.”