Two plays after the Buckeyes had jumped out to a 7-0 lead against visiting Illinois, freshman tailback Daniel Dufrene took the handoff and burst through a hole in the right side of the offensive line, accelerating into the open field. Sophomore cornerback Donald Washington came sprinting in from the other side of the field and finally drew contact with Dufrene around the 10-yard line.
Washington got two hands on Dufrene's back, and the ensuing push was too much for the tailback to handle and he began to fall, parallel to the ground, around the 5-yard line.
Here is where the controversy enters the picture. Dufrene fumbled the football forward as he fell to the ground and OSU safety Kurt Coleman fell on the ball in the end zone.
Although replays broadcast on ABC showed that the tailback had clearly lost control of the ball before hitting the ground, Dufrene was ruled down at the 3-yard line. Illinois scored one play later and was on its way to an upset of the nation's top-ranked team.
"During the play I didn't see the ball come out and I saw it once we recovered it," Washington said. "I did see that the ref had called it down very fast so it didn't really cross my mind that it was a fumble just by how quick the ref had called the ball dead so it didn't really go through my mind why they didn't challenge or anything because I didn't know how evident it was that he had fumbled."
But the question seems to be why the play was not reviewed or challenged. Earlier in the season, OSU head coach Jim Tressel said he is "not cracked up" about using instant replay to overturn a call on the field.
"I don't know if it's added to the game because like I've always said, it's not comprehensive," he said. "They don't replay a play that went for a 40-yard run and if you really saw it there was a hold. That's a 50-yard turnaround."
At a Monday press conference, Tressel said he did not challenge the play partially because the team's coaches are not permitted to have video monitors in their booths high above the field.
But in the Big Ten, plays that are deemed controversial are supposed to be automatically reviewed without a coach needing to throw the red flag on the field and challenge the call.
It is a situation that can confuse even the players on the field.
"I don't know why we have instant replay but then we have a red flag and none of them were thrown," sophomore wide receiver Brian Hartline said. "I don't know how that works. I just play, I guess."
Part of the problem stems from the fact that it was both such a long and quick-developing play. Tressel said he did not have a good view of the play because he was still near the initial line of scrimmage – the Illinois 17-yard line – when the ball came out.
The question, then, is why the officials charged with reviewing controversial plays did not signal the officials on the field to let them know the play merited a review. On Monday, Tressel said he had learned there were technical difficulties that further complicated the process.
"From what I understand now, I didn't know this then, is that there was a technical difficulty with the replay system and I guess that happens," he said. "We had a couple technical difficulties with what we were doing too, so that didn't make the difference in the game."
In addition, the officiating crew for the game is under scrutiny. After officiating the Purdue-Penn State game Nov. 3, Purdue head coach Joe Tiller complained to the Big Ten about the group. He later told reporters the conference had agreed with him, while a report in the Sporting News indicated that members of the crew could be reprimanded or even fired. The crew has been pulled from working for the final weekend of the conference schedule but was allowed to work the OSU-Illinois game.
Although he agreed that the one play alone did not cause the Buckeyes to lose the game, Hartline did not understand how the play was not challenged. Following the game, he said "thousands" of people had told him it was a fumble on the play.
"I'm sure that ABC had a good shot because everyone else told me that it was good enough," he said. "If they couldn't see and there was still a chance that it could have been a fumble, buzz the refs and stop the play. It doesn't have to be like that. It doesn't make sense to me."