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Here's why Michigan got a penalty for 'substitution with intent to deceive'

Jim Harbaugh tried to get away with an illegal trick here, but the referees were right on top of it.

Up 35-13 in the second quarter against Rutgers, Michigan was called for a penalty for  "intent to deceive." Intent to deceive! That's a penalty?

(All images via Big Ten Network.)

Hearing this call infuriated Michigan fans. Isn't 99 percent of offense about the "intent to deceive?" Aren't you trying to deceive opponents when you run play-action, or fake field goals, or flea flickers, or even when a QB fakes to one receiver and passes to another?

Yes, of course. You're allowed to try to deceive your opponent. But certain types of deception are very clearly outlawed in the rulebook, and Michigan did one of those. Here's the play in question, a pass to Jake Butt, who was wiiiiiide open.

How did he get so wide open? Here's how he lined up:

What happened is Butt ran off to the sidelines behind a few other Michigan players going out of the game ... except Butt himself didn't leave the game.


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This exact scenario is almost word-for-word described in the playbook as illegal:

A1 leaves the field of play during a down. Team A huddles with 10 players. Substitute A12 enters, and A2 simulates leaving the field but sets near the sideline for a "hide-out'' pass. RULING: Penalty—15 yards from the previous spot. This is a simulated replacement of a player to confuse opponents.

Butt, who didn't huddle, is "A2" here. The play is *slightly* different -- there is no A1 out of bounds on the prior play -- but it was a 10 man huddle with an 11th man pretending to run off. FOX rules expert Mike Pereira felt it was a deceitful substitution and therefore a penalty:

Should this type of deception be illegal?  Maybe, maybe not. It seems like good gamesmanship to me. But for now, it's pretty explicitly outlawed in the rulebook, and until that changes, this is an illegal play.

This play worked for Georgia Tech once:

But after that game, ACC officials said the play should've been ruled a violation.

After Michigan's win, Harbaugh said he was "offended" by the call:

There's no doubt that Jake Rudock made the right play in hitting the wide-open player, but the play Harbaugh drew up fits the textbook definition of an illegal play. He would've gotten away with it, if it wasn't for those meddling refs.

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