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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

September 20, 2011 at 6:05 PM

More on the zebras in Lincoln

On the Times website, and due for the Wednesday print edition, I’ve got a story detailing the response of the new Pac-12 coordinator of football officiating, Tony Corrente, on some of the disputed calls in the Washington-Nebraska game.

Corrente puts a new light on the rule governing what constitutes interference with the ability to catch a punt – or a “pooch” kickoff. And it makes me wonder if the rule isn’t so exacting as to require a re-examination.

Watching replays of Desmond Trufant’s hit on Nebraska’s punt returner in the third quarter, I’m hard-pressed to conclude Trufant did anything wrong. He approaches the receiver, even seems to slow down, and then wraps him up.

It’s just that there’s an exquisitely fine line between the receiver’s right to “completely catch” the ball, as Corrente puts it, and the tackler’s imperative to do his thing. Seems as though the case can almost be made that if the returner indeed catches the ball and locks it up, that would constitute having had the leeway to “completely catch” it.

Note that a fair-catch signal isn’t a requirement here, which is where a lot of us get tripped up. According to Corrente, with or without the signal, the receiver must be given a chance to “completely catch” the ball.

You’ll recall that before 2003, there was the two-yard “halo” rule, in which a return man had to be given two yards’ distance as he caught the ball. That was a can of worms, because when a “gunner” can run a 4.45 40, it could be very difficult to measure whether the receiver was given two yards, or 68 inches.

So they did away with the rule in 2003, but as Corrente pointed out, that didn’t remove the requirement of allowing the receiver the ability to catch the ball. And the call is much the same governing pooch kickoffs that don’t hit the ground, accounting for another UW penalty as it tried to come back midway through the fourth quarter.

Still, I think you could make the case it’s easier to call pass interference than it is infractions like the one on Trufant – if officials are going to try to parse it out to the nanosecond, as they did on that punt.

As for the punt-interference call near the end of the first half, Corrente said he needed clarification from the Big Ten. It’s possible the interference whistled by the officials was against the Huskies’ Greg Ducre, who was passing the Husker return man as he ran up to track the ball. But that’s speculation.

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