It was clear Thursday night and it was still clear Friday morning—North Carolina State wide receiver Bryan Underwood scored on an 83-yard touchdown run against Clemson, a play that would have tied the game at 13 in the third quarter.
But the line judge didn't think so, at least not in the speed of the moment, and determined Underwood had stepped out of bounds while he was tiptoeing along the sidelines near midfield. Underwood's would-be touchdown run, which would have tied the game at 13, was instead ruled a 36-yard run.
Three plays later, Wolfpack quarterback Pete Thomas fumbled the ball and Clemson recovered. That resulted in a touchdown drive for the Tigers and a major swing in the game. Clemson would go on to win 26-14.
Whether things would have turned out differently if Underwood's touchdown had counted is a moot point. However, that doesn't mean that the ruling on the field Thursday night was acceptable. North Carolina State earned that score and they deserved to have it count.
Once an official blows his whistle to rule a player out of bounds, though, the play is dead and it can't be reviewed further (provided it's not within 5 yards of the end zone).
Human error, from officials to players to coaches, is part of the game. From an officiating standpoint, though, the point of instant replay is to minimize that error as much as possible.
The fact that replay isn't even allowed to examine a post-whistle play like Underwood's is ridiculous when you consider that other post-whistle plays, like a potential fumble, can be.
But, as they say, "them's the rules". And, specifically, the rule in question is Rule 12, Section 3, Article 3, Provision G, which states, "Ball carrier in or out of bounds. If a ball carrier is ruled out of bounds, the play is not reviewable, except as in Rules 12-3-1-a and 12-3-3-d."
(Hat tip: Matt Zemek of CollegeFootballNews)
The spirit of that rule dictates that, if a player is ruled out of bounds, the play is over and everyone on the field is no longer in a position to make a play. However, in Underwood's case, Clemson defenders were still chasing him as though the play was alive.
That would be an instance where common sense has to prevail over the rule in place. The line judge made a mistake Thursday night by blowing the play dead prematurely and with an obstructed view. It was the wrong call, which happens. Fix it. Or, at least, give it the opportunity to be fixed.
For as controversial as the ejection-for-targeting rule is, it at least has the opportunity to be overturned if the ejection isn't warranted. (The 15-yard penalty is still enforced, however, and that's a separate conversation.)
Does every dead ball rule need to be changed? Not necessarily, but NC State coach Dave Doeren should at least have had the opportunity to challenge the ruling Thursday night. If the play in question resulted in a score, it should be under further review regardless of the ruling. The fact that rules and replays are treated as separate conversations in the NCAA's rulebook, when they often are so closely connected, makes no sense whatsoever.
The technology of instant replay is there. It's good technology. Use it to its fullest extent.