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College football torn over controversial punt return in Minnesota-Iowa game

DeJean was called for an "invalid fair catch signal" late in the Gophers win over the Hawkeyes.
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Many figured it would be a punt that decided Saturday's game between the Minnesota Gophers and Iowa Hawkeyes, but few figured it would be like this. 

Cooper DeJean's 54-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter appeared to give the Hawkeyes a 17-12 lead in the Battle for the Floyd of Rosedale. But the play was overturned after a review deemed that DeJean called for an invalid fair catch signal and the play was dead at the Iowa 46-yard line before Deacon Hill threw an interception to secure the Gophers' 12-10 victory over the Hawkeyes.

Gopher and Hawkeye fans have meticulously analyzed DeJean's punt return and have developed theories on what actually happened. But according to the opinion that matters, Big Ten referee Tim O'Dey ruled that DeJean's motions with his left hand to wave Hawkeye players away from the ball was an invalid fair catch signal and ruled the play dead.

"An invalid signal is any waving motion by a receiving team member that happens throughout the kickdown," O'Dey told Dargan Southard of the Des Moines Register. "...The second piece that comes from Rule 6 is that any catch or recovery of a kick after an invalid signal is given causes the ball to become dead upon recovery or catch. Those are the basis for what we made a decision on after seeing the play."

O'Dey mentioned that because DeJean made an invalid fair catch signal, the ball becomes dead which by rule makes the play reviewable.

"We let the play run out and then when we went to review, [the] review shows with indisputable evidence that there is a waving motion with the left hand and that is when these rules are applied," O'Dey explained. "It's legal to point but any waving motion of the hands during a kick play is considered an invalid signal."

As O'Dey mentioned, DeJean is clearly pointing to the ball with his right hand and waving with his left hand. As observed, an Iowa player runs away from DeJean after the signal is made but others have pointed out that DeJean's hand never goes above his helmet and therefore didn't signal for a fair catch.

Other Hawkeye fans have mentioned that the Gopher defenders didn't stop pursuing DeJean and that the refs didn't initially blow the play dead once he had the ball.

DeJean told reporters after the game that he does not use his left hand to make a fair catch signal but with the Big Ten rotating officiating crews, it's almost impossible for a referee to know DeJean's tendencies in that moment. 

During his postgame press conference, Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said that the Gophers have been called on similar plays before and that he thought it was a fair catch.

"I'm not an official but there was something." Fleck said. "We've been called for that before where we've made any type of movement prior to the catch and the ball was dead right there."

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz believes the initial reason for the replay was to determine whether DeJean had stepped out of bounds, but eventually got to whether or not he had signaled for a fair catch.

"I appreciate the replay on [whether DeJean stepped out of bounds]...but somehow we went from there to a whole different series of topics," Ferentz said in his press conference. "It's really hard to accept the explanation that we got."

Ferentz also questioned the Big Ten's replay process and thinks the ultimate decision should have been made by the officials on the field.

"Maybe I slept through the meeting when they covered that but I'm still not sure who makes the final decision," Ferentz said. "I know we go to Pittsburgh for analysis and my theory is that the more people that get involved, the more screwed up things are."

Together, it makes for a good old-fashioned controversy that has Gopher and Hawkeye fans creating their own theories.