What referees told Brent Venables after Javon Baker’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty

What referees told Brent Venables after Javon Baker’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty

A seemingly blown call on a second-quarter touchdown left Brent Venables livid Saturday.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Oct 21, 2023, 5:07pm CDT

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Oct 21, 2023, 5:07pm CDT

NORMAN — Brent Venables had it right about UCF coach Gus Malzahn this week.

“I think good coaches — deception is part of the game,” Venables said. “I think it was Sun Tzu in the Art of War (who talked) about deception as something utilized on the battlefield.”

Malzahn’s reputation for fakes, disguises and trickeration has been well-earned. The Knights duped Oklahoma a handful of times in the sixth-ranked Sooners’ 31-29 win Saturday afternoon and no moment was more glaring than UCF wide receiver Javon Baker’s 86-yard score that came with a side of controversy.

OU led 14-10 inside the last two minutes of the first half when Knights quarterback John Rhys Plumlee pulled back on a read-option and fired 30 yards up the sideline. The fake caught Sooners cornerback Woodi Washington, who charged toward Plumlee and left Baker to run the last 60 yards without an OU defender in sight. 

It was everything the Sooners had spent the week planning for. They got beat by a fake anyway and UCF held a 17-14 lead 84 seconds before halftime.

“They major in exactly all of that stuff,” Venables said. “They might do it more than anybody.” 

Washington got tricked on the UCF end of the field. The drama that followed Baker’s score only sparked past midfield when the third-year pass catcher swung his head left and blew a kiss toward the OU sideline on his way to the end zone. 

Flags flew as Baker crossed into the end zone. UCF was assessed a 15-yard, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed to the ensuing kickoff. Yet Venables was left wondering why the touchdown hadn’t been called back altogether.

Per Article 1 of the NCAA rulebook’s section on unsportsmanlike conduct, Baker’s gesture to the Sooners sideline fit the definition for a live-ball foul resulting in a 15-yard penalty “from the succeeding spot”, which would have negated the touchdown.

Instead, the score stood, the Knights kicked off from the 20 yard line and Venables was irate.

Here’s how he described the explanation he received from the officiating crew:

“They called it a touchdown. The (referee) said he missed it where it happened and he called it in the end zone.”

Those words would have rung particularly hollow had the Sooners come out on the other side of the one-score game. Venables’ sense of humor following the narrow victory likely would have been different, too. 

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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