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Poor Officiating Nearly Overshadows Penn State-Iowa Game

Penn State football’s 17-12 victory over Iowa was almost ruined by an absolutely brutal display of officiating.

John O’Neill — who’s had his fair share of poor performances when officiating Penn State football games — was the lead referee on Saturday night. He and his crew definitely weren’t on point during the game, including one particular sequence in the third quarter.

Pat Freiermuth, Journey Brown, and Sean Clifford all scored touchdowns on the drive, but all three scores were called back due to penalties and, in Freiermuth’s case, a botched review. The referees determined that Freiermuth’s knee touched the turf before he broke the plane on this play:

Journey Brown then punched in a one-yard touchdown, but holding was called on the play to wipe the score off the board. Sean Clifford ran the ball into the end zone from 10 yards out on the first play after the hold, but Steven Gonzalez took a borderline-at-best holding penalty to negate that score. Penn State eventually settled for a Jake Pinegar field goal to extend its lead to 10-6.

That’s not to mention Nate Stanley’s incompletion that was initially called a fumble returned for a touchdown on the field in the fourth quarter. Stanley was hit as he threw while passing out of his own end zone, and the hit caused him to spike the ball into the turf.

Ellis Brooks scooped up the ball and dove into the end zone, and one of the officials instantly signaled “touchdown.” However, O’Neill instantly stepped in and said the ruling on the field was an incomplete pass. That call was objectively correct, but the fact that O’Neill was completely out of sync with his colleagues was another black eye on Saturday night’s officiating performance.

The Nittany Lions took just 4.2 penalties per game through their first five games in 2019. Tonight, the officials threw eight flags on Penn State that cost the team 80 yards. Something’s obviously not right here, and James Franklin knows it.

“The thing that was really interesting is that we’re one of the least penalized teams in the country,” head coach James Franklin said postgame. “We come in here tonight, and it didn’t play out that way. I’ll just leave it at that.”

When asked if he got an explanation for why Freiermuth’s would-be touchdown was wiped off the board, Franklin’s response was simple: “No.” According to the Harrisburg-Patriot News’ David Jones, Big Ten officials said that the decision to overturn Freiermuth’s touchdown was a “judgment call” without providing any further explanation.

Although the head coach admitted he’d love to have a long-winded discussion about the officials’ struggles on Saturday night, Franklin held his tongue during his postgame press conference.

“I’d love to have a lengthy conversation about this,” Franklin said. “I know our fans want me to have a lengthy conversation about this. It’s not going to do anything. We’re going to enjoy the win and focus on the things we can control. I get it, but I’m in a no-win situation.”

John O’Neill definitely has a history of poorly officiating Penn State football games. He was the lead official for the 2014 White Out game against Ohio State, and he and replay official Tom Fiedler called a pass that clearly touched the ground an interception for Ohio State’s Vonn Bell. Additionally, the Buckeyes snapped the ball and converted a 49-yard field goal a full three seconds after the play clock expired. A delay of game penalty wasn’t called on Ohio State, and the three-pointer stood. Penn State lost that game 31-24 in double-overtime.

At the end of the day, O’Neill’s incompetence doesn’t matter all that much. Penn State went 1-0 this week and beat a ranked opponent on the road for the first time in the James Franklin era.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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