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New instant replay rule plays part in Utah victory

Utah’s Paul Soliai celebrates after sacking Arizona quarterback Adam Austin.
Utah's Paul Soliai celebrates after sacking Arizona quarterback Adam Austin during the Utes' season-opening 27-24 win over the Wildcats on Friday in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Kyle Whittingham, unlike the majority of Mountain West Conference coaches, didn't want a "coach's challenge" as part of the league's new Instant Replay Plan. He even voted against it. The new Ute coach, while a fan of replay in general, felt it could be handled in the press box with replay's officials — like the Big Ten's experimental system last year — without having the coaches get involved.

Yet two plays into the first-ever MWC game with instant replay, Whittingham threw his red flag on to the field to challenge a call.

It ended up that he didn't need to. The three-man replay officials in the press box booth were already using their TiVo equipment on their 23-inch flat screen monitor reviewing the controversial play.

And it went Utah's way.

"Had that play stood," Whittingham said after his team's 27-24 season-opening win over Arizona, "it could have made a huge difference in the game."

On the field during the play in question, it was ruled that Arizona had recovered a Brian Johnson fumble on the Utah 25 with 14:16 remaining in the first quarter. It would have given the Wildcats outstanding field position and momentum just seconds into the game.

The replay officials, however, overruled the officials on the field and Utah retained the ball. It was determined that Johnson's arm was moving forward and it was simply an incomplete pass.

"I knew it would be overturned," said Johnson, "because I knew I was going forward with the ball and definitely once I looked up at the replay (on the JumboTron) I knew they were going to overturn it."

Nine of the 11 Division I-A football conference will have replay this year — the only exceptions being the WAC and the Sun Belt. But while the MWC's version of replay is more like the Big Ten's than the NFL's, it is the only one to feature a coaches challenge. Arizona, a member of the Pac-10, had an option on whether to use the MWC's system or not — and they chose to.

That came back to haunt them early in the second quarter, however, when Wildcats coach Mike Stoops challenged a 17-yard completion from Johnston to Travis LeTendresse. Stoops felt Johnson threw the pass beyond the line of scrimmage.

But after watching the replay, the completion stood. As a result, Arizona was charged with a timeout.

No plays in the second half of the tight game were reviewed.

"Instant replay is a positive thing," said Whittingham. Although he says he's "still lukewarm" on the coaches challenge aspect of the MWC's rule.

The three members of the instant replay team — the replay official, the assistant replay official and the video technician — watch the game and can ask for a replay on various plays. Their job, according to the MWC, is "to correct egregious errors." There is no limit to the number of plays the replay officials can choose to review.

The coaches, on the other hand, are limited in their challenges. The head coach is the only person who can throw the red challenge flag. Each head coach is entitled to one challenge per half, provided he has a timeout remaining.

If the challenge is upheld, that coach may have one additional challenge for a maximum of two per half. If the challenge is denied, however, the team loses a timeout.

"I'm glad we got that (instant replay) rule in now," said Johnson, "because it was a big plus for us tonight."