NORMAN — Confirmed.
That’s the operative word that got Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb kicked out of Saturday’s game against Tulane.
The Big 12 Conference officiating crew flagged Lamb for targeting a Tulane defender on a block. The play was sudden and violent, so a penalty was understandable.
But when the call went to the Big 12 replay booth to see if Lamb’s targeting penalty warranted the required ejection, not one replay showed conclusively that Lamb had met any of the definitions of targeting and disqualification.
And yet, referee Dan Romeo announced, and later said in a postgame interview, that the violation was “confirmed.”
Which is just wrong — a fact that doesn’t sit particularly well with the Sooners’ new head coach.
— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) September 16, 2017
VIDEO: CeeDee Lamb’s hard hit Saturday draws a targeting penalty and ejection
Lincoln Riley spoke Sunday with Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson and league brass and didn’t agree with their conclusions.
“Honestly,” Riley said, “we were told that they agreed with the call, that CeeDee hit the guy in the head. When I watched it, I honestly had a hard time seeing that. I’ve watched it a bunch.”
Therein might lie the bigger story: During his weekly news conference Monday at Memorial Stadium, Riley became more emphatic than ever with his words and gestures. He wasn’t agitated or even animated, but he spoke with a strong tone of conviction and certainty.
“If you’re going to tell officials to throw anything that’s close, then — in my opinion — it should be clear evidence that it absolutely, 100 percent happened because of how severe the penalty is. If the penalty was just a 15-yarder and not an ejection, I could get it. But in my opinion, the fact that it also brings along an ejection, let’s make sure that he 100 percent hit him in the head. I don’t think either one of us can sit here and say 100 percent either way.
“That’s the problem I have with it. If we’re going to kick a guy out, that replay ought to absolutely beyond any doubt confirm it. I think that’s where maybe there’s a little bit of maybe an area we need to look at.”
To be clear, Riley said he understands and agrees with the need to err on the side of player safety. And he agreed that Tulane’s Taris Shenall was indeed in a defenseless position (even though Shenall turned his head in Lamb’s direction at the last moment). To that end, Riley said he’ll talk to all of his players about the technique needed to throw an effective “peel-back” block in that situation.
“The question is now was there … head-to-head contact?,” Riley said. “Was there contact in that above-the-shoulder area? I get it. It’s close. You look at some of the views and you say, ‘No way.’ You look at a couple of them and you see, ‘Maybe.’ ”
Which unequivocally means the replay official’s determination that there was inconclusive proof Lamb made contact with Shenall above the shoulders was simply in error. Not one video replay shown during the broadcast shows that proof.
“I just think that the level of enforcement is continuing to get stronger,” Riley said.
This isn’t about the Sooners getting a touchdown called back, or about the sissification of American sport (although, really, was Lamb supposed to announce his presence as a blocker, or should he have tried to set himself like a basketball screen and get plowed over, or would everyone prefer if he block Shenall at the knees? Shenall probably wouldn’t; he returned to the game a few plays later.)
This is about Big 12 officials somehow getting another one dreadfully wrong, and a player paying an unfair price.
But in the big picture, it’s about Lincoln Riley’s response.
He didn’t give a safe, coach-speak, milquetoast non-answer on the taboo subject of questioning officials. Rather, he definitively offered his opinion on the rule, the application of the rule, the call, and the interpretation of the call, as well as how he’ll instruct players to handle similar situations in the future and how the rule and its application can be improved.
Three games into his head coaching career, Riley handled his first real controversy — a bad call for which one his players was unfairly kicked out of a game — with the perfect blend of diplomacy and determination.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.