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Why Penn State’s game-winning kick block vs. Ohio State wasn’t a ‘leaping’ penalty

Marcus Allen made an incredible and legal play, for a few reasons.

Penn State’s thriller of a win against No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday came down to a blocked field goal. Nittany Lions defensive back Marcus Allen shot into a gap and jumped to block Tyler Durbin’s 45-yard field goal try, and Grant Haley scooped it up and ran 60 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

To make the block, Allen, wearing No. 2 in blue, jumped as high as he could. The NCAA’s “leaping” rule says you can’t jump to block a kick and land on someone, or else it’s a 15-yard penalty and a first down.

This happened to Michigan State a few weeks ago, when the Spartans’ No. 34, Drake Martinez, air-mailed himself over Indiana’s linemen and landed on any number of players.

What Allen did was different. While Martinez was going over and onto people, Allen was going between them. He jumped through a gap between Ohio State’s blockers.

Marcus Allen's block

A few players pushed each other into Allen's path, and he definitely contacted other bodies on his way down. But he didn't "land" on them, and that matters, because this is how the leaping rule reads, in part (bolding mine):

No defensive player, in an attempt to gain an advantage, may step, jump or stand on an opponent ... No defensive player who runs forward from beyond the neutral zone and leaps from beyond the neutral zone in an obvious attempt to block a field goal or try may land on any player(s).

Allen contacts players in the natural course of blocking the kick, but he doesn’t land on them. In fact, he lands on the turf. Look at him on the ground, all by himself:

Even if Allen had landed right on top of someone, this wouldn’t have been leaping.

Let’s pretend all the above was a lie, and Allen had actually parked himself directly on top of one of Ohio State’s blockers, “landing” on him without doubt.

It wouldn’t have mattered. Let’s read a little farther down in Rule 9, Section 1, Article 11 of the NCAA’s football rulebook. That’s the leaping rule, and it stipulates such a jump is “not a foul” if one of these three conditions is met. Bolding is mine:

It is not a foul if the player was aligned in a stationary position within one yard of the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped.

It is not a foul if the player leaps from in or behind the neutral zone.

It is not a foul if an offensive player initiates contact against the player who leaps.

And here’s where any leaping case ends before it could even begin. The line of scrimmage on Ohio State’s kick attempt was around Penn State’s 28-yard line. When Allen jumped to block it, look where he took off from:

Allen clearly hadn’t jumped yet when his body was crossing the neutral zone, which is an upward plane from Penn State’s 28. Attempts to block kicks from inside or behind (on the offensive side of) the neutral zone can’t be leaping, and that’s where Allen was.

You could even make a case that Ohio State blockers let themselves go into Allen’s path, but that doesn’t matter. Allen didn’t jump until he’d reached the neutral zone. There was, plainly, no leaping here. It was just a brilliant block.

Penn State fans can continue to celebrate without any second thoughts, and they can take further pride in the point that their football team is now good.