Southeastern Conference officials "erroneously" skipped a down during the Penn State-Auburn game Saturday, prompting Penn State to punt on 3rd-and-11 and leaving coach James Franklin perplexed even after the game.
The SEC issued a statement following Penn State's 28-20 victory over Auburn that the officiating crew discovered the error during a media timeout, making it too late to rectify.
"At 11:45 in the 2nd quarter, Penn State throws an incomplete pass that was judged to be Intentional Grounding," the statement said. "The crew's enforcement of the penalty erroneously set the down to 3rd; the correct down should have been 2nd. The replay booth was consulted to confirm the down prior to the punt. The replay booth had it as 4th down as well.
"The error was discovered during the media timeout that followed the punt and by rule it could not be corrected at that time."
During the game, television cameras caught Franklin holding up four fingers to the officials and pleading his case. Afterward, Franklin measured his words in explaining the situation.
"I talked to all of them," he said. "They all agreed on the call and so did the replay. They all agreed. And I kept bringing them over and saying, it's not accurate. I don't know what else I can tell you, but they all concurred with the officials. They got the headset, they talked to each other, they all agreed. They ran it by replay, they agreed as well. I don't know what else I can do or what else I can say."
The grounding penalty itself was perplexing as well. Clifford clearly threw the ball downfield looking for a receiver who wasn't there. Clifford said that he had a miscommunication with receiver Parker Washington. "We weren't on the same page," said Clifford, who otherwise played his best game as a Penn State quarterback.
The series ultimately did not hurt Penn State. In fact, after a defensive stop, the Lions went on 14-play, 91-yard touchdown drive, their longest of the season.
Later in the second half, defensive tackle PJ Mustipher appeared to convert a first down via a third-effort surge on a fake punt. However, officials marked his forward progress short of the first-down marker. A few Penn State players thought the spot was incorrect but didn't challenge the officiating.
Neither did Franklin, though he did raise an eyebrow regarding the officiating in general. Penn State was penalized five times for 35 yards, while Auburn received six penalties for 45 yards. As a result, Franklin noted that Penn State won the penalty battle on the stat sheet.
But he added, "that's a whole other story for another day."