Penn State forced to punt vs. Auburn on third down due to officiating error, SEC acknowledges

The SEC crew calling the Penn State-Auburn game committed the second of two high-profile fouls for the conference on Saturday, when officials forced the 10th-ranked Nittany Lions to punt … on third down.

The error occurred in the second quarter, when Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford aired a ball downfield with no pass-catchers in the vicinity; the play was called intentional grounding which, by rule, resulted in a loss of yards and downs. That should have made it second-and-16; instead, officials mistakenly took an additional play away from Penn State, making it third-and-16.

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The offense wasn’t able to get the yardage necessary on “third down,” forcing the punt.

To make matters worse, the call was reviewed by the booth, which confirmed Penn State was punting on fourth down. The mistake wasn’t discovered until the next media timeout. Penn State coach James Franklin was none too pleased with the call or officials’ explanation, as evidenced by his brief halftime interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe:

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The SEC later acknowledged the error in a postgame statement, explaining that because it wasn’t discovered until after the fact, there was no way by rule the call could be corrected:

The play ultimately didn’t affect the game, as No. 22 Auburn couldn’t score on its ensuing drive. The Nittany Lions scored a touchdown after receiving a Tigers punt, but finished the half with an interception at the Auburn 3-yard line to take a 14-10 lead into halftime. Clifford led two scoring drives in the second half and, backed by a goal-line stand and another last-second defensive stop in the fourth quarter, helped lead Penn State to a 28-20 victory.

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The mistake wasn’t the only one committed by SEC crews on Saturday; the officials calling Memphis vs. Mississippi State allowed the Tigers to return a punt 94 yards for a touchdown after the play had already been called dead by an official, though there is some wiggle room as to whether the returner, Calvin Austin III, was in his right to pick the ball up. Moreover, officials missed two Memphis players both wearing No. 4 on the play, which should have resulted in a penalty.

The play ultimately cost the Bulldogs in a 31-29 loss.

That said, there might not have been a bigger loser from Saturday’s slate of games than SEC officiating.

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