Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Alabama vs. LSU vs. the Zebras

image The Alabama vs. LSU series has been one of the most intensely contested rivalries in the SEC over the last several years. With few exceptions over the last decade, the games have been close and hard fought.

These are the types of games in which a handful of plays can make a big difference in determining the final outcome. One more first down here; a stop on a key third down there. A critical turnover on this play and a blown assignment on that one.

And there’s always the “bad call.” That one play that the losing team points to and complains that the officials either made the wrong call or made a no-call when one was clearly warranted. There are two glaring moments in recent Alabama – LSU meetings that come to mind.

The first was the 2004 game in Baton Rouge. LSU Defensive Back Corey Webster was shown shoving Alabama Wide Receiver Keith Brown to the turf in the endzone, picking off Spence Pennington’s attempted TD pass and racing out of danger. There was no flag on the play. At the time, Alabama had the momentum and would have likely made it a different contest than the final score indicated.

Skip forward to the 3:30 mark in the video below.

The second was the 2009 game in Tuscaloosa, where many Bama fans feel the fighting corndogs got their just desserts. Patrick Peterson appeared to step in front of a Greg McElroy to Julio Jones pass for the INT. There was no immediate ruling on the play, but the replay official reviewed it and referee Tom Ritter explained that the ruling on the field—incomplete pass—stood as called.

The Southeastern Conference officiating crews have received absolutely withering criticism over the years. There have been a number of notably horrible calls made by officials, and every team in the league has been either the benefactor or the victim. And doesn’t it always seem as if the worst calls come in the most important games? Doesn’t it also always seem as if those calls are argued about for years afterwards?

Through nine weeks of the 2011 season, there have been a total of 57 SEC games played in which video replay was in use. As the graphic below shows, there have been 69 stoppages of play to allow for review of a call made on the field. There have been 25 plays overturned, or about 36% of the total.

image Courtesy, Southeastern Conference             

There are three things to take away from this post. First: bad calls are part of the game. The officials are human and they are going to make occasional mistakes. Second: while the bad call is always a probability, instant replay has at least reduced the odds of a bad call standing up to review. The third and final takeaway: If you make some of the other key plays in the game, you aren’t whining about the bad call. In both the 2004 and 2009 games, there were other plays that were just as important as the ones recorded here. The loser didn’t make them. The winner did.

Extra point: The same crew that called the 2009 game is expected in Tuscaloosa for this year’s Armageddon.

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