Typically when a college football game ends, the fans of their team put out one of three collective responses: the standard clapping and shouts of approval following a win, the respectful golf clap after a tough loss against a good team, or the mailed in lethargic clapping from the few folks who stuck around until the end of a bad loss.
None of those actions were on display from the Louisville section inside the Georgia Dome when the clock hit zero in Atlanta on Saturday. Instead, Cardinal fans just sort of stared at the field in disbelief .... and continued to do so even after the U of L team itself had made its way back into the locker room.
It was one of the most bizarre postgame scenes I've ever seen, and I was a part of it.
When Bobby Petrino had used Louisville's final timeout two plays prior to the end of the game, I was on the verge of being hysterical. My friend sitting next to me maintained that it had to have been a mistake but as the "1" changed to a "0" on the U of L side of the scoreboard and the clock continued to tick after Auburn was stuffed on 3rd and 12, it became apparent that the Cardinals had, in fact, used their final means of stopping the clock at a time when, we all thought, the clock was already stopped.
Cue the confused staring, the same questions from everyone in the U of L sections, and, eventually, the postgame anger. Sure, driving the length of the field (or close to it) for a game-tying score in 40 seconds was a long-shot, but at least it was a shot, and at least it would have provided an appropriate level of closure to what had been an overwhelmingly fun comeback. In a weird it was it was not seeing Lamar Jackson throw a desperation interception with the clock winding out that left everyone in red and black leaving the Georgia Dome feeling a bit ... unsatisfied?
So what exactly happened here? Given what I've seen as recently as Monday morning on social media and local sports radio, it sounds like we need a little bit of clarification.
Auburn had appeared to salt the game away by converting on a 3rd and 2 with 52 seconds left, but the Tigers were whistled for a holding penalty. Just about everyone in the building (and watching from home) assumed that the clock would remain stopped after the offensive penalty, and were understandably blown away when Petrino burned U of L's final timeout after the 10 yards were marched off. Petrino explained after the game that the officials had told him that the clock would start running after the ball was set and that he thus had no choice but to use his last timeout.
As it turns out, the officials were right. College football's rules dictate that if a play ended in a live-ball result, the clock must run even if there was an offensive penalty and even if the game is in the final two minutes. The caveat is that the play clock runs for 25 seconds, not 40.
So basically, Petrino still shouldn't have called the timeout, but doing so only cost Louisville an extra 15 seconds, not 40. He probably also should have been told by the officials about the time disparity when they told him that "the clock is going to run."
The real issue here is with the rule itself. If you're a head coach or an offensive coordinator of a team trying to run out the clock with a lengthy, run-fueled drive, why aren't you just telling every one of your players to egregiously hold on every single play? In the likely event that the play works, you then force your opponents to either take a play that resulted in a first down or take the penalty and have the clock continue to roll.
It is an enormous (and ridiculous) loophole in the rule book, and I hope now that Louisville is aware of it they get to take advantage of it some time before this season is over.