The Music City Missed Call – Examining the Rule Book for the Final Play

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    There are several takeaways from Tennessee’s overtime loss to Purdue in the 2021 Music City Bowl. Many are bad takeaways, some are good takeaways, but the one that has left the college football world stunned is the final call during Tennessee’s overtime possession – the Music City Missed Call.

    With Tennessee on a 4th and goal attempt from the one-yard line, freshman running back Jaylen Wright bounced a run to the outside but was quickly met by a slew of Purdue defenders. The two sides clashed like gladiators on the doorstep of the endzone. Wright churned his feet and did everything in his power to get his body across the goal line. However, with that not being an option due to Purdue’s swarm tackling, Wright reached the ball across the goal-line and broke the plane.

    Although the ball was clearly across the goal-line, especially during the replay, Wright was not given the touchdown on the play. The officials in the game had called forward progress, ruling Wright down short of the endzone.

    Purdue eventually went on to take over in the latter half of overtime and was able to score the game-winning field goal shortly after.

    The majority of the frustration from Tennessee fans is from the referees directly altering the course of what could have been a potential go-ahead touchdown. The ruling of forward progress did seem like a stretch considering Wright was still stretching out for the goal-line. Most of the time forward progress is called, it’s when a running back or wide receiver gets stood up by a defender or group of defenders, and the whole pile of players slows to a halt with almost everyone standing up. However, Wright’s play involved a player that was actively reaching for the endzone and sprawled out on a defender in arguably the most crucial play of the game to that point.

    See Also from RTI: Twitter Reacts To Controversial Forward Progress Call In Overtime

    So, what exactly does the rule say? Is the purpose of forward progress to kill off a play where no one is going to the ground after a few seconds? Or does it go far enough to be defined as ruling a player down as he is actively reaching for the endzone?

    According to Section 9 Article 2 of the NCAA rulebook, forward progress is defined as “a term indicating the end of advancement by the ball carrier or airborne pass receiver of either team and applies to the position of the ball when it became dead by rule.”

    With that determination, it’s hard to separate the difference between a player skipping backward with defenders on him and a play that is reaching for a score. But the key in this instance is judging Wright’s feet.

    Yes, there is a split second when Wright does not appear to be moving forward. However, upon closer examination, it seems as though the Tennessee running back was just trying to get his feet under him. From the time that Wright was horizontal to the ground (without his knees touching) to the time he extended the ball across the goal-line, Wright’s feet were digging into the ground to push him forward. There is a clear and obvious attempt by Wright to inch closer to the goal-line when he knew that ultimately he just needed to get the ball across the line as opposed to his whole body. Additionally, this wasn’t a seven-second play either. From the time Wright bounded to the outside to the time the whistle was called, only three seconds had elapsed.

    Going off of the rule from the NCAA, even though Wright’s body could not advance any further due to the Purdue defender in his way, he was still trying to get the ball across. And, again, the player himself does not need to get across the line, just the ball.

    Wright’s non-touchdown is tricky when it comes to the way the forward progress was ruled. But at the end of the day, it just did not seem like the correct call. It’s hard to make the argument that there are better times to enforce the rules than others. After all, they are the rules. But on a 4th and goal play from the one-yard line in overtime of a bowl game, that call just didn’t make any sense.

    Jaylen Wright had one goal when he took the handoff from quarterback Hendon Hooker: reach the endzone. That’s the point where the referees should have let the players play the game and let the players decide the victor. A forward progress call, that was unable to be overturned during the review, on the one-yard line in overtime is a tough pill for the Tennessee fanbase to swallow

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.