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Wisconsin, Arizona State, and how not to end a football game

No one is really sure what happened at the end of the Wisconsin vs. Arizona State game. But we'll try and make some sense of it.

Christian Petersen

There is video of the end to Wisconsin-Arizona State below. Watch it, and then read along as we go through what probably happened (and should have happened) at the bizarre end of Saturday's most baffling college football game.

1. With 18 seconds left and no timeouts, Arizona State leads by a score of 32-30. Wisconsin has the ball on the Arizona State 13. You might think simply running the clock down, spiking the ball on 1st down, and kicking for the 33-32 win on 2nd down would be the right call. You might be right, but that is not what Wisconsin is going to do here. Sort of. We think.

2. Badgers QB Joel Stave snaps the ball with 18 seconds on the clock. He runs around gamely, and then takes a knee after running into one of his blockers. Wait! That's not what happened in the video! No, not from the ESPN angle. This is what the play looked like from the perspective of the Wisconsin endzone.

3. The referee clearly signals "down." The play is whistled dead. Stave places the ball at the line of scrimmage for the officials to spot it, and then also appears to make something that looks a lot like a time out signal. This would be a time out that Wisconsin does not have. This really doesn't matter a lot save for the additional confusion it may have injected into the mounting chaos.

4. An Arizona State player -- either as confused as the TV viewer, or simply trying to delay the inevitable game-winning kick for Wisconsin -- flops on the ball like it is live. The clock is running. Wisconsin must either a.) spike the ball, b.) rush their field goal unit onto the field in something like eight seconds, c.) wait for the officials to pull a large man off the ball and assess a penalty and make subsequent clock adjustments, or d.) sit there and watch the clock run out while the officials reset the ball too late, and end the game without calling a penalty.

5. Wisconsin chose d.) sit there and watch the game end. They had no choice: despite the referee obviously telling a Wisconsin player that Stave was down, the umpire standing over the ball makes no call against the Arizona State defender for laying on a dead ball, and after finally getting the defender off the ball tells Wisconsin to hold while the clock runs down.

6. So what should have happened? Arizona State probably should have been penalized for delay of game for flopping on the dead ball after the referee signalled down. (Watch it again: the play IS blown dead.)  The Sun Devil defender lays on the ball for a good seven or eight precious seconds, and by the time the umpire sorts things out it's too late. Wisconsin gets something like ten seconds on the clock to set up a spike, and then sets up with a few seconds left to attempt the winning kick.

7. That is something that probably should have happened. This is also something that should have happened: Wisconsin should have never let it get to this, and should have played a faster endgame. Stave was told to run around and down the ball in the middle of the field. The odd, half-assed kneeldown starts the whole sequence, and then puts the rest of the game in the hands of the clock, the officials, and defenders all too happy to lay on a ball and dare an official to do something. The officials killed Wisconsin's chances of winning the game, but the Badgers handed them the gun with a smile. (Arizona State may be charged as an accessory.)

8. The officials did do something. When the clock ran out, they disappeared in a hurry.

Update: Big Ten admits officials botched end of game