In the third quarter of Florida State's 20-17 win over Boston College, Jameis Winston attempted, twice, to physically wrest an official out of the way so he could run a play. It was a weird moment, and per the letter of the law, Winston should have been ejected. But what the hell was actually happening?
"He was just holding me because he said we had a substitution," Winston told ESPN. "It was actually a fast-tempo play, so I was trying to get up under there and let it ride."
In college the defense is given the right to match substitutions, even when an offense is in hurry-up mode. The Noles made a change from the previous play, so it was on center judge Michael Webster to stand over the ball to prevent a play from being run until BC was able to substitute. Except—and here's where Winston's confusion likely came from—Webster wasn't over the ball. Center Cameron Erving had gotten there first and was set and ready to snap.
So Webster did what he could, trying to get in between Erving and Winston. Winston was trying to run a play as quickly as possible, and Webster was technically in the wrong spot to stop him from doing so. Awkwardness, a couple of shoves, but when Webster saw that BC had made its changes, he scampered out of the way.
Jimbo Fisher said it was unintentional.
"I don't think [Winston] realized it," Fisher said. "He was caught up in the excitement of the moment. Hey, you get emotional. He didn't realize. He thought he could snap the ball. ... He knew that was his job — get out there and set and snap the ball."
There is probably something to be said about a mindset that excuses shoving an official out of the way by saying, essentially, "he did it because he thought he could"—rather than first imprinting upon players the idea that you should heed authority figures. And by pretty much any reading of the rulebook, that much contact with an official meant Winston should have been gone. Dave Cutia, ESPN's college officiating expert, said it should have been a 15-yard penalty for FSU and an ejection for Winston. Fox Sports' Mike Pereira agrees. Instead, Winston completed a seven-yard pass for a first down.
How you feel about the lack of a penalty probably depends on how you feel about Winston. Setting that aside, I find it hard to argue too strenuously for kicking any player from a game for confusion without malice.