For the second time in three weeks, Oklahoma freshman Caleb Williams helped his team to victory with an incredible play on fourth down.
The first was a 66-yard touchdown rumble vs. Texas on fourth-and-inches, the spark needed in a 55-48 comeback win in the Red River Showdown. The second was considerably less explosive, but perhaps just as important. The third-ranked Sooners, who entered the game as 38.5-point favorites, held off Kansas 35-23 because of it.
Williams’ key play came late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Oklahoma-Kansas game, with the Sooners facing fourth-and-1 at their own 46 and leading the Jayhawks 28-23. A Kansas stop would have given the Jayhawks the ball back with roughly 3:09 remaining. Indeed, the defense stopped running back Kennedy Brooks for a loss of 2 yards … were it not for the heads-up play from Williams.
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For those who missed it … Williams managed to wrest the ball from Brooks behind the line of scrimmage, fight for the first down yardage and grab an extra couple yards for good measure. The play allowed Oklahoma to continue its drive, which eventually ended in a Brooks 4-yard touchdown with 42 seconds remaining. The Jayhawks didn’t have enough time to mount a comeback.
Coach Lincoln Riley offered praise to Williams following the play and credited the freshman quarterback’s game-time decision with Brooks.
“You’ve got to get those two kids a bunch of credit,” Riley told reporters following the comeback win, “I think Kennedy realized what Caleb was trying to do,” Riley said. “They both understood the situation and it was worth the chance. Even if Caleb would have gotten tackled, it would have been obviously worth the chance to do it. It’s smart football and I don’t want to take credit. Those guys made that play a big moment.”
The question now is: How did Williams pull off a double handoff? Why wasn’t it considered an illegal forward handoff?
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The NCAA has three pertinent rules that show Oklahoma’s play to be legal. They are Section 3, Article 8.a — “Reviewable plays” — Section 7, Article 6.a — “Handing the ball forward” — and Section 13, Article 1.a — “Handling the ball.”
- Section 3, Article 8.a: “Player making a forward pass or forward handoff when the player’s entire body and the ball is or has been beyond the neutral zone or after a change of possession (Rule 12-3-2-c and -d).”
- Section 7, Article 6.a: “A Team A back may hand the ball forward to another back only if both are behind their scrimmage line and the player handing the ball forward has not had their entire body beyond the neutral zone.”
- Section 13, Article 1.a: “Handing the ball is transferring player possession from one teammate to another without throwing, fumbling or kicking it.”
The middle rule is the key to Oklahoma’s play. It clearly dictates a team can hand the ball off behind the line of scrimmage. And, per the last rule, the qualifier “without throwing” makes it possible for two handoffs on a given play — unlike a forward pass or lateral — so long as the play does not cross the line of scrimmage. That’s where the former rule comes into question.
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Because Brooks’ entire body did not cross the line of scrimmage, it was still legal for Oklahoma to hand the ball off again — so long as it took place behind the scrimmage.
You’ll remember, then, that Williams took the ball from Brooks two yards behind the line of scrimmage before fighting for first-down yardage. The play, then, is completely legal in the NCAA rulebook.
And it allowed Oklahoma to remain undefeated for yet another week.