And because of this, the sport has put in the replay system to help officials get calls right – to remove some of the human error that can cost a team points, momentum and even a win. But when the official fail to use the tools provided to them to help get calls correct – that's when the system fails. And on Thursday night at Carter-Finley Stadium, the officials and the system failed.
Let's start with the failure of the rulebook itself. The rulebook says that if a play is blown dead, as was the case with Bryan Underwood's run, it cannot be reviewed. The logic, presumably, is that everything that happened after the whistle blew could have happened differently had the whistle not blown. That makes sense on some plays, but when Underwood is running free with the entire defense in his rear-view mirror it becomes clear that maybe there doesn't need to be a hard and fast rule about it.
But the real problem wasn't the rule itself; it was an ACC official who should understand the rule book blowing his whistle. Seeing the review, there's simply no way any official could have been certain that Underwood stepped out of bounds – and the official has to understand that if he blows his whistle when he's not sure the play is over. It's irreversible. On the other hand, if he lets it play out he allows the replay official to judge the ultimate outcome. He takes it out of his one set of eyes and gives it over to superior technology – 10 different high-definition camera angles and slow-motion replays. By blowing his whistle he made the technology, and rules designed to protect his fallibility, a moot point.
"He was right in front of me. He didn't go out of bounds, and unfortunately they blew it dead and they couldn't review it," Doeren said. "It's an unfortunate deal. I know the guy felt bad about it... can't do anything about it. It's just the way it is."
Of course, the Pack can't put the entire weight of last night's loss on the officials. Even after the missed call, the offense had a first down at midfield trailing by just six points with 22 minutes of clock remaining. But this is a young team, playing with a patch-work offensive line, and it showed over the next few plays. The team didn't execute on its next three plays, ending with a sack and a fumble that once again gave the Tigers great field position. Tajh Boyd didn't waste it this time, hitting for plays of 20 and 30 yards to score a touchdown. In less than two minutes, the game swung decidedly in Clemson's favor.
"I think our kids are tough," Doeren said. "They are very tough. We just can't beat ourselves. We don't have a lot of depth. We played a lot of young guys. Rob Crisp was out of the lineup."
The Pack actually had two successful drives to end the game – a 12-play drive that ended in a missed field goal followed by a 23-play drive that included four fourth-down conversions and ended with a touchdown. But the touchdown drive ate up too much clock for the Pack to entertain any real comeback hopes. Instead the locker room was forced to settle for a hard-fought contest and thoughts of what might have been.
"They are a good football team and they will probably win a bunch of football games, the thing we're going to do is not let it beat us twice," Doeren said.