It came as little consolation to Illinois coach Ron Turner and his team, but the Big Ten Conference admitted Monday the officiating crew for Saturday night's Michigan game blew two late fumble calls that may have cost the Illini (3-1) a crucial victory.
The Wolverines (3-1) rallied from a 31-21 deficit in the fourth quarter to win, 35-31, but television replays showed two controversial calls helped them.
The Big Ten office acknowledged the errors in a statement, a portion of which read: "Unfortunately, two incorrect fumble calls ruled on by the game officials in the latter part of the fourth quarter did not measure up to the quality of play and coaching that was presented during the game."
The first play occurred with Illinois leading 31-28 and less than four minutes to go in the game. Facing third down and seven at his own 23, Illini quarterback Kurt Kittner passed to tailback Rocky Harvey near the sideline. Harvey was hit hard near the 26 and tumbled toward the turf.
As Harvey's hand struck the ground, the ball popped free, but he appeared to gather it in. When the ensuing pileup was untangled, Michigan's Norman Boebert emerged with the ball. Replays revealed officials mistakenly awarded possession to the Wolverines.
Three plays later Michigan's Anthony Thomas scored the game-winning touchdown from the 3, but the most critical ruling of the game preceded his run. After a 17-yard gain on second down, Bobby Jackson hit Thomas and -- as replays clearly showed -- he lost possession of the ball before he hit the ground. Officials incorrectly nullified Brandon Moore's fumble recovery and gave the ball back to Michigan, which scored on the next play.
"Those were the two big ones," Big Ten supervisor of officials Dave Parry said.
In other college football news, Adam Taliaferro, the Penn State freshman who was severely injured in Saturday's game at Ohio State, underwent successful spinal fusion surgery Monday morning at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, doctors said.
The surgeon, Dr. Gary Rea, said that Taliaferro's spinal cord was "bruised, but not cut and that he continues to have complete feeling throughout his body."