Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I hope I wasn't the only one scratching my head after watching Minnesota's final touchdown in its 42-34 win over Michigan State on Saturday night.
In a play now being called the Immaculate Deflection, quarterback Adam Weber threw a pass to leaping tight end Nick Tow-Arnett. Michigan State cornerback Chris L. Rucker delivered a huge hit on Tow-Arnett, who lost the ball into the air as he hit the ground. Gophers running back Duane Bennett grabbed the ball and raced untouched to the end zone.
Here's the response I received from a Big Ten spokesman who had talked with coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo.
"If a receiver catches the ball and then hits the ground, the receiver must maintain possession for it to be an official catch. If a receiver catches the ball, hits the ground and the ball pops up in the air and it hits the ground, that’s an incomplete pass. If a receiver catches the ball, hits the ground and the ball pops up in the air, a defensive player can grab the ball for an interception. And if a receiver catches the ball, hits the ground and the ball pops up in the air, an offensive player can grab the ball and then it counts as a reception for the second player [not the first player]."
Is your head spinning?
In this case, Tow-Arnett didn't maintain possession as he hit the ground, but since the ball didn't hit the ground, either, it was still possible for Bennett to make the reception and advance the ball downfield. The rules for fumbles don't apply until an official reception is made, which didn't happen until Bennett caught the ball.
Here's the NCAA rule on what constitutes an official reception:
Airborne receiver A85 grasps a forward pass and in the process of going to the ground, first contacts the ground with his left foot as he falls to the ground inbounds. Immediately upon A85 hitting the ground, the ball comes loose and touches the ground. RULING: Incomplete pass. An airborne receiver must maintain control of the ball while going to the ground in the process of completing a catch.