TEMPE, Ariz. -- USC didn't finish off Arizona State until securing an interception on the second to last play. An interception earlier in the fourth quarter could have made for a more comfortable conclusion.
Safety Talanoa Hufanga snatched a Joey Yellen pass toward the sideline and proceeded to return it 50 yards, only it was negated by a roughing the passer penalty on Jay Tufele. The USC defensive tackle hit the ASU QB just after the ball came out and then landed on him.
The officials told Tufele the latter part of the play is what drew a flag.
"All I heard was I laid on him," he said. "You're not allowed to lay on him. A penalty's a penalty. I messed up. I got to come back and make sure that's clean next time."
It would help if what's clean was clear.
While the play is almost always called in the NFL, judgment seems to really vary in the college game. The Trojans have been flagged a few times for similar hits this season. But they've also seen some go uncalled, including Saturday on Kedon Slovis and two weeks ago at Colorado with Hunter Echols. It's that inconsistency that makes it difficult for defenders to know where to draw the line. A frustrated Tufele said he's not sure how to land anymore.
"I was surprised," he said. "I really didn't know because my head was down. I knew he had the ball, but I didn't know if he was releasing it."
His penalty put the Sun Devils in the red zone, and they would score three plays later to make it 31-26. Tufele said his coaches were more upset with the call than they were him. But it's too big of an issue for anyone to ignore. Last month at Notre Dame, a similar penalty on Palaie Gaoteote prevented USC from taking over possession while it was still a one-score game.
Both their hits were considered legal for years. Now they're sometimes not in 2019.
"I'm going to talk to my coach," Tufele said. "There's mixed feelings about it. Some people say it wasn't, some people say it was. At the end of the day they threw a flag. Hopefully next time they'll call it how it is."
Assuming a penalty will be called is the safest move. The harder part is knowing how to avoid one.
-- Adam Maya is a USC graduate and has been covering the Trojans since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJMaya.