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No answers from Big 12 means no closure in Texas penalty controversy

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Strong: I lost my composure (0:55)

Charlie Strong talks about what caused him to lose his cool in last Saturday's game against Oklahoma State. (0:55)

AUSTIN, Texas -- The great Texas penalty controversy of 2015 is still missing two important things: an official title (Flag-gate?) and a bunch of unknowable answers.

Why was Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford penalized for defensive holding on a run play? Why did officials miss a holding call on Oklahoma State but ding Paul Boyette Jr. for barely roughing the passer a second later? Why did line judge Kelly Deterding bump into coach Charlie Strong before issuing him an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty?

And another: What did Strong say to Deterding that prompted that critical flag late in the fourth quarter?

Actually, Strong could resolve that one.

"I don't remember what I said to the official," Strong said Monday. "I mean, I forgot what it was."

Then he flashed a grin and started laughing.

Like most everyone else entangled in the controversy, Strong can’t say what he really thinks. No need to risk a fine from the Big 12 office. And after Monday, he moved on. He already has enough on his plate in preparing for a trip to No. 4 TCU.

Texas fans, on the other hand, have had a much harder time achieving acceptance. The game’s officiating has remained a lighting rod for criticism all week long in Austin.

This much is undisputable: The Longhorns were penalized 16 times for 128 yards in their 30-27 loss to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys ended up with seven penalties for 40 yards.

A series of three consecutive penalties in the game’s final minutes -- pass interference on Texas cornerback Kris Boyd, the holding call on Ford and the unsportsmanlike conduct on Strong -- set the Cowboys up for their game-tying field goal.

A 53-yard touchdown on a double pass from Marcus Johnson to John Burt was negated by an illegal forward pass penalty. That came not long after a 15-yard touchdown by D'Onta Foreman was wiped out by a holding call.

The call against Ford has received the brightest spotlight, particularly because replays suggest he was the victim of offensive holding.

Another problem: the sheer rarity of such a penalty.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, defensive holding on a run play has occurred only 61 times from the more than 49,000 FBS penalties called since the start of the 2010 season. That’s less than 0.13 percent.

The Longhorns ended up with their second-highest penalty total in one game since 1996, a second consecutive last-second loss and a sneaking suspicion they had been wronged.

"It felt like every big play, everything that happened, you’d have to look back and say, 'Well, did they call anything?'" Johnson said.

The questionable calls have inspired hot takes galore, accusations of game-fixing, intensive research into the officiating history of lead referee Alan Eck and endless message board fodder.

Even an Austin restaurant got in on the action:

Emmanuell Sancha, the manager of El Arroyo, didn’t take credit for the sign -- another staffer came up with the message -- but Sancha was just as disgusted by the officiating as his customers.

"It was horrible. Man, that sucked," Sancha said. "We might have to come up with another sign on that one."

The explanations that Walt Anderson, the Big 12’s coordinator of officials, offered in interviews Monday night only seemed to spill more gasoline on the blaze.

Anderson defended the work of his officiating crew and said he was pleased with their performance. He declined, though, to reveal which calls were right and wrong.

"There were a few mistakes -- and I emphasize a few -- and you want to learn from them," Anderson told The Dallas Morning News. To Anderson, the "vast majority" of penalties were correctly called.

Though he didn’t speak specifically on the most controversial calls, Anderson did offer justification for the defensive holding call, as well as for the crew’s handling of Strong. None of that seemed to pacify the burnt orange mob. Some fans even took to Twitter to declare it’s time the Longhorns leave the Big 12.

Those Texas devotees still waiting for the Big 12 to step forward and declare, "We screwed up" won't ever get that satisfaction.

A Big 12 spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that commissioner Bob Bowlsby will make no public statements about the game's officiating. Anderson said that’s simply not how they do things.

"Right or wrong, correct or incorrect, the conference is rarely going to make comments about individual calls," Anderson said.

He spent eight hours Monday reviewing every aspect of the Oklahoma State-Texas tape. Texas fans have been doing the same for three days.

Anderson understands and welcomes the scrutiny. But there is not much he, the Big 12 or anyone else can say that will bring much closure.

"The reality is," Anderson said, "if mistakes are made and when they’re made -- because that’s gonna happen -- we’re gonna learn from them."