While yesterday's Oregon vs. Washington State football game had an emotional arc for Ducks fans like me that went pre-game optimism - most of second half despair -- last few minutes elation (amazing comeback by Oregon), the Oregon State vs. USC game was pretty much the opposite.
John Canzano, the Oregonian sports columnist who now opines in a freelance manner, shared an email with his followers titled "Oregon State snatches defeat from the jaws of victory." Canzano singled out four interceptions thrown by OSU quarterback Chance Nolan as a key reason for this.
But what grabbed my attention as the almost-end-of-game reason for Oregon State's defeat was USC getting a fourth down conversion when six yards were needed on a quarterback run after Caleb Williams was pressured on a passing play and had to scramble for a first down.
Two screenshots of game highlights on a You Tube video tell the pushing the pile tale.
Oregon State leads USC by four with 2:45 left to go in the game. If they stop USC on 4th & 6 there's an excellent chance Oregon State wins the game, garnering national attention by beating the #7 team in the country and setting themselves up as a top competitor in the PAC 12.
At this point in the play two Oregon State defensive players have the USC ball carrier wrapped up short of the first down line shown in yellow. It looks like they're about to bring him down. But...
A few seconds later, a mass of USC players have pushed the ball carrier forward across the first down line. Now two USC players are (correctly) signaling first down. Not long after, a long pass play gives USC a touchdown, putting them ahead 17-14, which was the final score after another interception of a Nolan pass snuffed out Oregon State's last gasp attempt at a field goal or touchdown.
Talking with a friend today about this pushing the pile play that saved USC from a likely defeat, I noted that while I hadn't thought about the fairness of this practice before, my irritation at Oregon State's loss made me wonder how it is that a ball carrier being tackled by defenders can gain additional yards not by their own effort, but by being propelled forward by teammates.
Just seems more like rugby than American football.
Some Googling this evening revealed that according to Wikipedia's "Helping the runner" article:
The official NCAA rule book in 1950 stated, "The runner shall not grasp, or be pulled by, any teammate, nor shall any teammate push the runner or lift him from the ground while the ball is in play. Penalty for 'helping the runner' is 15 yards from the spot of the foul."
...The penalty in college and high school was later reduced to 10 yards, and finally 5 yards. The NFL and CFL continued with the foul as 10 yards. In 2005, the National Football League made the penalty only for pulling and carrying, removing the flag in cases of pushing. The NCAA followed in 2013. Pushing still remains illegal in high school games.
So if the Oregon State - USC game had been played in 2012, USC would have been penalized for pushing the pile. Small comfort for us Oregon State fans, since this is 2022, not 2012.
It still seems like allowing pile pushing could lead to some bizarre consequences. My Googling revealed how one person thought back in 2015 that pushing the pile could be used in a strange way.
Until Saturday, I hadn't realized they changed the rule so that it is now okay to push a ball carrier forward. This seems like something that a big team could use often, and maybe even build an offense around.
Most running schemes try to find a gap and run through it. Usually, the running back gets tackled, not stood up. When they do get stood up, they sometimes push forward with success. KSU did this to us several times.
But what if your goal was to get stood up every play, then push forward in a coordinated effort, kind of like a tug of war? You'd line up with five beefy OLs and two TEs, all shoulder to shoulder, with a RB under center surrounded on 3 sides by O Linemen. Snap to the running back, and have everyone muscle forward slowly, in a tight bunch. The RB has 7 linemen in front of him and 3 behind him, all pushing forward. Like in a tug of war, the surges could be timed, with the guy in the back yelling "push... push... push... push".
On some plays you could push straight forward, on others at an angle to the left or right. You could even push one way for a predetermined number of times, then switch to another direction. The defense would be resisting at the wrong angle, which would be a huge edge to the offense.
When I first thought of this, I thought it was stupid. But the more I think about it, the more I think it could actually work -- assuming you are bigger and stronger than they are.
Can you tell I don't like this rule change?