As halftime closed in and South Carolina football tried to add a crucial touchdown in the late second quarter against No. 2 Alabama, a pivotal moment unfolded in a matter of seconds.
On first and goal at the four-yard line, freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski gave the ball to senior running back Rico Dowdle, who stumbled through contact, then lunged for the goal line.
Fans cheered and Dowdle celebrated, thinking he had scored and cut the Gamecocks’ deficit to 24-17, with USC getting the ball to start the third quarter.
But the referees saw it differently, marking Dowdle down at the one-yard line. Three unsuccessful plays later, and coach Will Muschamp’s team was headed back to the locker room, still trailing 24-10.
When Muschamp was asked on the field about the call on Dowdle’s run and the subsequent decision by the refs to not review the play, he made his displeasure known while avoiding outright criticizing the officials.
“I’m not gonna on that. I’ll get fined for the rest of my life if I comment on that,” Muschamp said, before answering another question on Hilinski and then moving quickly off the field.
The SEC officiating Twitter account addressed the play during the game, tweeting that “the replay official saw the right knee was down and knew the call could not be overturned,” so there was no need for further review.
When asked about the call after the game, Muschamp said the same thing — the referees communicated to him that the SEC replay official had already made up his mind and no review would be coming.
“Once the ball is marked down on the field, there is no review. It’s the same as last year in the Florida game,” Muschamp said. “And our fan base is still emailing about it. It’s no review, guys, once it’s marked down ... that’s it, period, end of sentence You can’t review it, can’t call timeout and get a review, and just can’t can’t be reviewed. That’s the rules.
“ ... I’m just saying on the field, based that we’re telling us, they’re not overturning the call. Not a whole lot we can do in that situation.”
Between the end of Dowdle’s run and the South Carolina’s next play, roughly 30 seconds elapsed. In that time, Muschamp later clarified through a spokesperson, he was told by an official on the field that there was no way the play would be reviewed or overturned.
The officials at Saturday’s game also came under criticism from South Carolina players, coaches and fans for other reasons. In particular, Gamecock fans disagreed with a holding call that negated a fake field goal-turned-touchdown run by South Carolina’s Parker White.
An illegal shift call also brought back a 65-yard punt that would have pinned Alabama inside its own five-yard line, and on the subsequent re-punt, an apparent holding call on the Crimson Tide was missed.
All told, however, Alabama was flagged 11 times for 92 yards, while Carolina was penalized five times for 32 yards.