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Film Review: Vanderbilt kick catch interference was the right call by the ref

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Today's film review is going to be slightly different from those in the season's first three weeks. Whereas I spent those articles breaking down individual plays and how they unfolded schematically, this is hopefully less dense. There are two turns of events that stuck out to me as worth discussing in a very interesting game: the kick catch interference call and Vanderbilt's seven play goal line stand that yielded the Rebels a field goal.

Fans, both Ole Miss' and Vanderbilt's, saw something they weren't accustomed to on Saturday, and the ruling surprised them. With the Rebels nursing a 10-3 lead, Carlos Davis went back to receive a punt, calling a fair catch. He didn't field it cleanly, and the ball popped up out of his hands. He bobbled the ball and ultimately lost any semblance of control he had. The football was flying by a Vanderbilt player who simply did what almost anyone would do: he caught it and rejoiced. I saw the whole thing happen and thought it was Vanderbilt's ball. The referees immediately threw a penalty flag and called kick catch interference. People all over the internet decried the call, but the refs were right. Here's why.

Kick catch interference by rule

Let's look at what kick catch interference even is. A lot of people remember the old halo rule, but this is quite different. The punt or kick returner isn't simply fair game when the ball bounces off of him. Maybe that's not the way you think the rule should be, but that's the way the rule is.

NCAA Football Rule 6, Section 5, Article 1.b

When a Team B player makes a valid fair catch signal, the unimpeded
opportunity to catch a free or scrimmage kick continues if this player muffs
the kick and still has an opportunity to complete the catch. This protection
terminates when the kick touches the ground.
If the player subsequently
catches the kick, the ball is placed where he first touched it.

As you can see, the announcers are bewildered at the end of the play, but the rule is properly enforced. Obviously, the ball never hit the ground before the Vanderbilt player touched it. He should have waited until it hit the ground and jumped on it, but he didn't. Sure, Carlos Davis still really screwed it up. This doesn't detract from that. Still, there are these things called "rules" that players have to "follow." What makes one rule more arbitrary than another is anyone's guess.

Goal line problems

With just over seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Rebels led Vanderbilt just 7-3, but the Rebels were driving. Chad Kelly hit Laquon Treadwell for a 30 yard gain down the left seam, and Ole Miss had the ball at the Vanderbilt 2 yard line-- first and goal with an opportunity to punch it in and go up 14-3 like they were expected to do.

The video of this drive starts at 51:30 of this video. The Rebels would run six plays within the Vanderbilt 4 yard line thanks to a pair of Commodore penalties, but Ole Miss would ultimately have to settle for a field goal. Here's why. This is what the blocking looked like on all the plays other than one that drew pass interference (and isn't depicted here).

VandyLine1

VandyLine3

VandyLine4

People can criticize Akeem Judd all they want, but no one is making a play in this situation. As he gets the ball, he's hit by two Vanderbilt defenders coming around the edge.

VandyLine5

VandyLine6

So yeah. Notice anything about where the offensive line is in relation to the line of scrimmage on all these running plays? Here's a hint: not past it. Usually, they're blown off the ball, giving the skill players no time to do anything at all. People wanted to talk about playcalling after the drive, and I fully support anger surrounding running the wildcat (which is basically dead thanks to Nick Saban), but in general it's tough to criticize coaches for calling runs up the middle on the goal line. I advocate for run-pass option stuff, but it is what it is.

So no. It's not likely to get better. The offensive line either isn't able to drive block, isn't trying to, or both. This team is going to have trouble picking up two yards when it needs them for the remainder of the season. That's just how it is. I'm not sure how much a schematic change can affect that, given the inherent problem with not being able to assert the will of the offensive line occasionally.