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Bryce Young’s Non-Safety: The Refs Got It Right... And Wrong

The controversial call by Big 12 officials explained.

Alabama v Texas
“You Make The Call”
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

One of the biggest and most controversial plays of the Alabama-Texas game came in the third quarter when Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young dropped back to pass in his own end zone on a 3rd & 7. With a big Longhorns push, defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat broke through the line and took Young to the ground.

*** Below is the play and I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE watching with the sound turned off, so that the imbecilic rantings of Gus Johnson and his ill-informed Fox cohorts do not distort what your eyes tell you. ***



Soon after the play, a flag was thrown by the Big 12 center judge. After a long huddle, the head referee announced the following:

“Personal foul. Roughing the passer. With targeting. Number zero (DeMarvion Overshown). Defense. 15 yard penalty from the previous spot. Automatic first down. The previous play is under further review.”

[ED.NOTE: The periods (.) are added to this quote to represent pauses in the referee’s announcement delivery.]


It should be pointed out that no official ever made the diving hands together overhead signal of a safety.

A safety can occur when one of the following three instances occurs:

  1. The offense is tackled in their end zone.
  2. The offense fumbles the ball out of their end zone.
  3. The offense commits a foul in their end zone


During live action, it certainly appeared that Young was tackled in the end zone. However upon replay, it is clear that the acrobatic Bama quarterback was never down while possessing the ball. Only a ball carrier’s hands and feet can touch the ground and still be able to progress the football.


The ball flew off wildly to the left giving an initial appearance of a fumble with possession. But again in review we see that his arm was clearly going forward. The ball deflected off of the helmet of nearby Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown causing it to tumble to the side. It’s a moot point but note that nobody scrambled after the ball in hopes of a recovery. It was obvious to everyone within 10-15 yards of the play that it was a forward pass.


Next is the assumption of intentional grounding. We already covered the fact that Young had control of the ball and his arm was moving in a forward motion.

The big arguments are that the ball didn’t make it pass the line of scrimmage and there was no eligible receiver in the area. As previously mentioned, the ball was deflected by a defender. Grounding cannot be called if the passer initiates his passing motion and then is significantly affected by physical contact from a defensive player that causes the pass to land in an area that is not in the direction and vicinity of an eligible receiver. There are no assumption of the trajectory of a football after a deflection and intentional grounding is not a reviewable play. Not that it matters, but running back Jase McClellan was an eligible receiver and was in the area around the one yard line.


I hope by now you are adequately convinced that by rule it was no safety, no fumble, no intentional grounding, and thus no safety. None of these potential rulings were called on the field. What WAS called was “Roughing the passer. With targeting.”

As we all know, targeting is reviewable and can be overturned and in this instance it was rightfully overturned. Roughing the passer on the other hand is NOT reviewable. There is no “roughing the passer with targeting” as a single foul. They are separate penalties. By rule, roughing the passer states “no defensive player shall unnecessarily rough a passer, when it is obvious the ball has been thrown” with or without targeting. We cannot read the center judge’s mind but what he must have seen was Young on the ground with the ball gone and Overshown coming in with a late hit. If you want to be a stickler for the rule, Overshown did come in after the ball was gone and did hit the man when he was down. It wasn’t a blow to the head but he was a bit tardy on his contact.

Thus, Alabama should have been granted a 15 yard walk-off to the 19 yard line and given an automatic first down. However after the review and several more huddles, the referee returned to the mic with the nebulous verdict:

“After review, there is no foul for targeting or roughing the passer. The foul was described incorrectly to the referee (him). The only foul we reviewed was the targeting as it was the roughing the passer call. Fourth down.

It was not the most eloquent of explanations. As a result, James Burnip punted out of his own end zone for 44 yards and Longhorns return man Xavier Worthy returned it 9 yards to the Alabama 39. Texas would convert the drive into a 33-yard field goal and take a 13-10 lead.

bAmmMeR gETs aLL tEh CaLLz

First, a gentle reminder to those out there who want to cry conspiracy: this was a Big XII officiating crew.

Secondly, Alabama was flagged 15 times in the game, eight of which resulted in Texas first downs. The Longhorns were hit with only five penalties, none of which gave the Tide a first down. These Bama foul calls included a holding call from the very beginning on the opening kickoff. Will Anderson was twice called for offsides - not “lining up in the neutral zone” mind you. If someone can find video evidence of either of these infractions, I am sure plenty of folks would be interested in seeing it. And then there was the roughing the passer on Dallas Turner and grounding no-call on Quinn Ewers which many Texas and national media outlets have admitted were bad calls.

“I didn’t really think it was a late hit by Dallas Turner. Was it a super hard, aggressive tackle? Yes. But did Turner try and drive Ewers into the turf with malicious intent? I don’t think so. It was a hard, but unfortunate, play.”

Brian Davis ~ Austin American-Statesman