How did Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams pull off double handoff vs. Kansas? Forward handoff rule, explained

For the second time in three weeks, Oklahoma freshman Caleb Williams helped his team to victory with an incredible play on fourth down.

The first was a 66-yard touchdown rumble vs. Texas on fourth-and-inches, the spark needed in a 55-48 comeback win in the Red River Showdown. The second was considerably less explosive, but perhaps just as important. The third-ranked Sooners, who entered the game as 38.5-point favorites, held off Kansas 35-23 because of it.

Williams’ key play came late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Oklahoma-Kansas game, with the Sooners facing fourth-and-1 at their own 46 and leading the Jayhawks 28-23. A Kansas stop would have given the Jayhawks the ball back with roughly 3:09 remaining. Indeed, the defense stopped running back Kennedy Brooks for a loss of 2 yards … were it not for the heads-up play from Williams.

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For those who missed it … Williams managed to wrest the ball from Brooks behind the line of scrimmage, fight for the first down yardage and grab an extra couple yards for good measure. The play allowed Oklahoma to continue its drive, which eventually ended in a Brooks 4-yard touchdown with 42 seconds remaining. The Jayhawks didn’t have enough time to mount a comeback.

The question now is: How did Williams pull off a double handoff? Why wasn’t it considered an illegal forward handoff?

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The NCAA has two pertinent rules which, reviewed together, reveal Oklahoma’s play to be legal. They are Section 13, Article 1.a — “Handling the ball” — and Section 3, Article 8.a — “Reviewable plays.”

  • Section 3, Article 8.a: “Player making a forward pass or forward handoff when the player’s entire body and the ball is or has been beyond the neutral zone or after a change of possession (Rule 12-3-2-c and -d).”
  • Section 13, Article 1.a: “Handing the ball is transferring player possession from one teammate to another without throwing, fumbling or kicking it.”
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The qualifier “without throwing” in the latter rule is the key to Oklahoma’s play. Because it doesn’t specify there can only be one act of handing the ball off in a given play, it’s possible for there to be multiple handoffs on a play — unlike a forward pass or lateral — so long as the play does not cross the line of scrimmage. That’s where the former rule comes into question.

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Because Brooks’ entire body did not cross the line of scrimmage even though it could be argued the ball did, it was still legal for Oklahoma to hand the ball off again — so long as it took place behind the scrimmage.

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You’ll remember, then, that Williams took the ball from Brooks two yards behind the line of scrimmage before fighting for first-down yardage. The play, then, is completely legal in the NCAA rulebook.

And it allowed Oklahoma to remain undefeated for yet another week.