Who’s the Target Now?

Who’s the Real Target?

When the NCAA rules committee announced that it had passed its new “targeting” rule for college football in March, I half-joked with my friends that the rule would undoubtedly come under fire and inevitably cost a team a game. I don’t think any of us expected it to happen to our own team, though. While it’s hard to say that this rule cost the Georgia Bulldogs a win on Saturday (other reasons include: special teams, Mike Bobo, Todd Grantham), it was certainly a key contributor. Early in the second quarter, Georgia’s Ray Drew shoved Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels to the ground after he completed a pass for seven yards. The hit drew a flag for targeting, and therefore, as the new rule states, Drew was disqualified from the game. The replay showed clearly, however, that Drew had not lowered his head or thrown his shoulder into the quarterback. Was it roughing the passer? Maybe. But it was certainly not targeting. Surely, we all thought, the replay assistant would overturn the targeting call and Drew would be allowed to stay in the game. Predictably, we were all wrong, as the ruling was upheld and one of Georgia’s key contributors on defense was now gone for the remainder of the contest. Georgia’s bad fortune with this new rule did not stop there, though.

In the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt chose to go for it on a crucial fourth and four in Georgia territory, as they were down 27-14 and a field goal would do them little good. On the ensuing play, Samuels attempted to hit receiver Jonathan Krause over the middle for the first down. Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson was in perfect position, however, and he promptly decleated Krause, causing the football to fall to the turf. The nature of the hit drew “ooohs” from the crowd and a late flag then came in. Again, the call was targeting, despite the fact that Wilson clearly led with his shoulder and the hit was 100% legal. The replay official did overturn the ruling and allow Wilson to stay in the game, but the damage was done. Vandy scored on the very next play and went on win the game.

The Georgia game wasn’t even the only one affected by the confusing rule. Just around the SEC, targeting calls and ejections were also doled out in the South Carolina vs. Tennessee and Florida vs. Missouri games. Those hits can be seen here and here. The question I have after repeated looks at all these replays: does anyone actually know what in the hell targeting is? I’m seeing different interpretations of the rule every week and there seem to be little consensus among officials about what they deem to be “targeting.” Further, that’s not even the rule’s most fatal flaw.  While the rule allows for a review from the replay assistant on whether the offender can remain in the game, it does not allow for them to overturn the penalty. So, while they are essentially saying that they made a mistake in penalizing the player, the punishment is still 15 yards. Where’s the logic in that? I suppose it’s too much for me to expect anything competent to come from the NCAA, but I have a feeling this will not be the last controversy that come as a result of the new rule. Here’s to hoping that it doesn’t happen in a game with larger implications.

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