Louisville’s final drive against Clemson ended when receiver James Quick stepped out of bounds a few yards short of the line to gain for a first down. He received plenty of criticism for the error but he may have been set up to fail by a member of the auxiliary chain crew, if you’re one to believe conspiracy theories.
Quick’s reaction after going out of bounds seems to support such a theory. He doesn’t react like a man who knows he was well short.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Try to spot the bright orange marker used to indicate the line to gain in the above video. It’s nowhere to be found. Although this is not an official indicator, it’s helpful to have a point of reference while racing for a first down with large men trying to tackle you.
We can all reasonably agree that Quick’s job of fighting for a game-extending first down was made more difficult by not having the orange marker where it should have been. The marker should be six feet off the field of play, according to SB Nation’s thorough report on the controversy. That makes the guy responsible for putting it down on the sideline open to criticism.
Judging by his over-the-top reaction, he was thrilled Clemson made the stop. You can tell by his fist pumping and Clemson hat. Now, it should be pointed out that he was working a voluntary job and wasn’t paid by the ACC. It would be foolish to think he’s a partisan unicorn in an otherwise neutral chain gang world. It’s just that few doing the job are as open with their rooting interests as he was in arguably the biggest moment of the college football season to date.
Big picture: Quick needed to have an understanding of the situation and is ultimately responsible for knowing exactly how far he needed to go in order to keep Louisville’s hopes alive. It would be unreasonable to blame the loss on one rogue Clemson fan who happened to be working in a somewhat official capacity.
But having said that, this is terrible optics.
In order to fully buy into this conspiracy theory, one must believe the marker was placed far away from the field in the hopes it would confuse a Louisville player. As much as I love donning tin-foil hats, that seems like a real stretch. Such a plan would require tremendous anticipation — and hey — probably secure a place in Clemson lore for the heroic execution.