No. 2 Alabama survived an upset bid from No. 16 Mississippi State on Saturday in Starkville, 31-24. The Bulldogs tried a Hail Mary in the final seconds, but it fell incomplete — apparently ending the game. A flag came in for pass interference, though, affording MSU an untimed down and one last shot to tie.
The foul’s on No. 42 for Bama here, linebacker Keith Holcombe:
Holcombe basically mauls an MSU receiver from about the 2-yard line until he’s a yard or two deep in the end zone. So when the flag came out, Mississippi State’s crowd was momentarily really excited. Were the Bulldogs getting the ball at the 2-yard line?
MSU’s untimed down wasn’t even from the red zone, though.
The reason is college football’s pass interference rule, which is way less punishing to defenses than its counterpart in the NFL.
In college, how defensive pass interference is penalized depends on where it happens. If it happens within 15 yards of the line of the scrimmage, it’s a spot foul, with the offense moving up to wherever the foul happened. But if it’s beyond 15 yards downfield, the penalty for defensive PI is 15 yards from the previous spot.
In the NFL, defensive pass interference is a spot foul, without that 15-yard business. If the foul happens in the end zone, the ball goes to the 1-yard line.
But this is college. MSU snapped the ball at the Alabama 49. All of this penalty business happened a solid 47 or so yards downfield, so the Bulldogs only got bumped up to the Tide’s 34.
How the NCAA’s rulebook puts it:
Team A’s ball at the spot of the foul, first down, if the foul occurs fewer than 15 yards beyond the previous spot. If the foul occurs 15 or more yards beyond the previous spot, Team A’s ball, first down, 15 yards from the previous spot [S33].
When the ball is snapped on or inside the Team B 17-yard line and outside the Team B two-yard line, and the spot of the foul is on or inside the two-yard line, the penalty from the previous spot shall place the ball at the two-yard line, first down (A.R. 7-3-8-XIV).
No penalty enforced from outside the two-yard line may place the ball inside the two-yard line (Exception: On the Try when the snap is at the three-yard line, Rule 10-2-5-b).
If the previous spot was on or inside the two-yard line, first down halfway between the previous spot and the goal line (Rule 10-2-6 Exception).
Even if the foul had been judged to have occurred in the end zone, the Bulldogs wouldn’t have gotten it on the Tide’s doorstep. The NFL’s rule would’ve given it to them with a chance to punch in from short yardage.