Trailing 10-7 early in the second quarter, Penn State punted to Auburn after referee James Carter ruled it was fourth-and-11. The Nittany Lions had been flagged for intentional grounding on first down, an automatic loss-of-down foul.
On second-and-16, quarterback Sean Clifford found wide receiver Jahan Dotson for a 5-yard gain. But then Carter announced the next play as fourth down and Penn State brought punter Jordan Stout onto the field.
Penn State coach James Franklin said he tried to alert the officials of the downs mix-up, but could not get the call changed.
"I talked to all of [the officials], and they said, look, they all agreed on the call, and so did the replay [official]," Franklin said. "They all agreed. I kept bringing them over and saying, 'It's not accurate.' I don't know what else I can tell them, but they all concurred, all the officials, they got on the headset, they talked to each other and they all agreed. They ran it by replay and they all agreed as well. I don't know what else I can do or say."
The SEC did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the officiating decision.
Carter has been an SEC official since 2010, and served as head referee for the 2019 SEC championship game.