Given all the twists and calls overturned during Michigan's overtime win in the Sugar Bowl, it's only fitting for the final play of the game to be surrounded in controversy -- albeit by outside observers after the fact.
Minutes after the Virginia Tech Hokies thought they scored a touchdown -- this play by Danny Coales was eventually ruled an incompletion -- and just four plays after Justin Myer missed a 37-yard field goal, Wolverines kicker Brendan Gibbons ended the game with a 37-yard field goal of his own.
But did Michigan get away with a false start? Watch the play below -- and pay special attention to Gibbons' slight stutter before the ball is hiked:
It may take a few replays to compare his stutter with the timing of the snap, but it's there -- and the Pac-12 officials working the game didn't call it. Gibbons had a similar stutter in the second quarter on that play that ended up (deliberately or not, we may never know) being a fake field goal, with holder Drew Dileo's pass being caught by the long-snapper. Ignore the silliness that happens after the play falls apart, and focus on Gibbons' feet before the ball is hiked:
This one is almost worse, although the snap comes quicker. That possession eventually ended with Gibbons nailing a 24-yard attempt as time expired in the first half. But just like in overtime, had the false start been called on his initial attempt, he would have faced a 42-yard attempt.
In either circumstance, would it have made a difference? We'll never know, but it's worth pointing out Gibbons' longest kick of the season was from 43 yards, and that he was just 2-for-4 on kicks longer than 39 yards. Given the inconsistency of college kickers as a whole, Hokies fans undoubtedly would have preferred to see him prove it.
After playing four-plus quarters of football, it seems like a stretch to split hairs on what amounts to a muscle twitch that offers no actual advantage and might actually disrupt the rhythm of kicking. (Then again, considering this happened just minutes after Danny Coales was schooled in the letter of law, perhaps splitting hairs is unavoidable.) It also seems likely that a false start can be called on almost any play that receives the Zapruder treatment.
But as SI.com's Stewart Mandel pointing out on Twitter, officials have blown the whistle on similar plays -- most notably, in 2010 when Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was flagged on a last-second attempt that would have knocked off then-top-ranked Oregon. I think Tavecchio's step is more pronounced than either of Gibbons', but in full disclosure, I'm also a Michigan alumnus with a rooting interest. Decide for yourself:
Apropos of nothing, Gibbons was asked after the game what he was thinking about during the timeout the Hokies called in their attempted to ice him, and his response was pure gold:
"Brunette girls," Gibbons said. "Every time we were struggling in kicking, coach tells me to think about girls on a beach or brunette girls. So that's what we did. Made the kick."
Former Wolverines kicker and 11-year NFL veteran Jay Feely, who cheered his former school on Twitter for much of the night, was asked about Gibbons' stutter after the game by a fan. His answer won't surprise you:
@zach_schmidt not a false start on the kicker— Jay Feely (@jayfeely) January 4, 2012