Updated: November 9, 2013 6:25AM
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald made the right call when he challenged the spot on quarterback Kain Colter’s fourth-down run late in the fourth quarter of the Wildcats’ 40-30 loss Saturday to Ohio State at Ryan Field.
The only question in the days after the game was whether Fitzgerald should have been forced to challenge the play at all.
With less than three minutes left, NU trailed 34-30 and had the ball at the Buckeyes’ 34-yard line. Colter fumbled the snap but recovered the ball and appeared to advance it for a first down, but the ball was spotted short.
Fitzgerald didn’t win the challenge and explained his thought process at a news conference Monday.
‘‘My process is based on visiting with the officials in the preseason [and] that our league takes a pretty aggressive approach to looking at replays,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘If there’s a close call, they’re
going to replay it. I assumed that was going to happen. I then told the side official that I didn’t want [Ohio State’s first-down] play to run.’’
In other words, Fitzgerald wasn’t going to let Ohio State get the ball back without the play being reviewed.
Replay officials can call for the referee on the field to
review a play by video without a coach’s challenge. Not only did it appear clear on
replay that Colter had surged past the first-down marker, but the Wildcats lost a timeout as a result of Fitzgerald unsuccessfully challenging the play.
The fallout was that NU ran out of timeouts and wasn’t able to stop the clock before the Buckeyes punted. The Wildcats got the ball back on their 16-yard line with 21 seconds left.
‘‘I got put in a no-win situation, and I had to do what I thought was right for the team,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘Obviously, that’s a decision I wish that I didn’t have to make.’’