The weirdest moment of the weirdest game of the Red River Rivalry happened as Texas was beginning its fourth quarter comeback.
Referee Brandon Cruse temporarily halted the game and announced that the Cotton Bowl clock operator needed to reset the game clock to 6 minutes, 36 seconds.
The clock alteration was an error, and an egregious one that added 46 seconds to the end of the game — a game in which Texas scored the tying points with 14 seconds to play.
“We questioned the officials about it,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said on Monday’s Big 12 coaches call. “I actually — I thought they were gonna stop it and talk about it, but they didn’t.
“No, we were not happy about it over on our sideline.”
With 6:06 to play, OU led 31-17. Facing a third-and-4, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger scrambled out of pounds at the 5:59 mark, and the clock ticked down to 5:57.
The ball was spotted and Ehlinger was awarded a first down, then play was stopped as the spot was reviewed with 5:50 showing on the clock. After determining that Ehlinger had stepped out short of the first down, Cruse announced for the clock to be reset to 6:36. The ball was respotted and signaled for play, and Cruse signaled for the game clock to start winding from 5:50 before Cruse again stepped forward and made a second announcement to reset the clock to 6:36.
Texas got an extra 46 seconds to attempt its comeback.
“Didn’t get a ton of explanation about it,” Riley said. “The game was kind of ongoing then. And I haven’t had a chance to connect with (Big 12 officiating boss) Greg Burks on that, but I certainly will be.”
That Texas possession ended when Woodi Washington intercepted Ehlinger in the end zone with 5:02 to play, but the Longhorns got two more possessions in regulation time. On one of those, Riley called for a third-down pass play over the middle that fell incomplete, stopping the clock and forcing Oklahoma to punt back to Texas with 1:52 to play.
Riley said it “would have been” easier to call a running play in that situation if another 46 seconds or so had been off the clock.
“I can’t promise what I would have done,” he said, “but it certainly would have had an impact on the decision, no question.”
A league spokesperson told the Tulsa World on Monday night only that the "Big 12 Conference football officials liaison Greg Burks acknowledges that a timing error did occur. The play clock should have been set to 5:57 after that play."
Riley said a member of the OU staff is tasked with monitoring such clock issues in the coaches box upstairs.
“But I think several of us, right away, when they came over the loudspeaker and said, ‘6:36,’ we knew. We obviously knew that wasn’t correct,” Riley said. “Like I said, I thought we made a fairly good argument on the sideline, but the officials were pretty convinced it was right and we had to get on with the game.”
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