Watching the X’s and O’s: New targeting rule

In a new series, Gators Country’s Dan Thompson explores technique, strategy, and film to help explain some of the finer points of the game of football.

One of the most talked about facets of the 2013 football season does not revolve around a particular football team, player or coach, it focuses around a new punishment for targeting – that has been controversial at best.

A new NCAA rule change passed on March 6, 2013 increased the penalty for targeting and hitting a defenseless player above the shoulder from a standard 15-yard penalty, to a 15-yard penalty AND ejection for one full game. The penalty, which is the same as fighting, states that if a player is penalized in the first half of the game, he will be ejected for the remainder of the game, however, if he is ejected in the second half, he will miss the rest of the second half and the first half of the next game. The booth can review a player ejection and if there is video evidence, it may be overturned. Further, the referees may lessen a suspension after the game.

For instance, this hit by former South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger would receive a suspension:

Swearinger on Make A Gif

Florida’s head coach, amongst a chorus of dissenters, is not very happy with the new rule, “I don’t like the rule. I don’t know what was wrong with what we were doing before.” Muschamp continued, “I’m all for player safety, but I don’t think it answers any questions about the other issues. I think it puts too much on the officials. I think it puts too much on the replay booth and too much pressure on them to err in a way that I don’t think helps our game.”

No matter, however, whether a coach or pundit agrees or disagrees with the rule, for now it is an NCAA rule, so let’s look at targeting and the new rule.

The USA Today created a beautiful graphic to describe targeting and the different hits that can illicit a penalty.

That graphic is great, but it can be hard to imagine what might be targeting and what might just be a big hit that looks like targeting.

This GIF shows Kentucky safety Mikie Benton targeting a defenseless Jordan Reed last season.
Benton on Make A Gif

In this hit, Benton launches at Reed with his helmet and forearm while Reed was in the act of making a catch, thus making him defenseless.

Let’s look at another. This hit from Louisiana Tech defensive back Craig Johnson is another example of targeting that would warrant an ejection with the new rule.
Targeting on Make A Gif

This picture shows Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope missing a pass, while Johnson squares up for a hit.

Johnson then uses his head to target the neck/helmet of Ryan Swope with his helmet/shoulder.

Johnson follows through with his shoulder through the helmet of Ryan Swope, jarring his head back.

If you have 32 minutes, I encourage you to watch this informative video on targeting.

While targeting can seem clear in a frame-by-frame analysis, it is not always as easy during a game. While yes, there are reviews and replays that can happen, the new focus on stopping targeting could yield an increase in penalties and ejections, which could greatly impact games. While the NCAA has said only 99 plays would have warranted an ejection in all of the FBS last season, I worry about calls from those like former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira and ACC officials, who thought the infamous Jadeveon Clowney hit against Michigan running back Vincent Smith warranted an ejection and a flag because the NCAA is encouraging a “when in doubt, throw a flag” paradigm, when in reality Clowney’s hit was perfectly legal, albeit a very hard hit.

I am a fan of player safety, I really am, I just worry about “when in doubt” calls, determining ejections, even if they can be reviewed.

Previous articleGC Roundtable: Toledo six pack of questions
Next article3 Days to Toledo: Antonio Morrison
Daniel Thompson
Dan Thompson is a 2010 graduate of the University Florida, graduating with a degree in Economics and a degree in Political Science. During this time at UF, Dan worked three years for the Florida Gator Football team as a recruiting ambassador. Dan dealt daily with prospects, NCAA guidelines, and coaching staff. Dan was also involved in Florida Blue Key, Student Government and Greek Life. Currently, Dan oversees the IT consulting practice of a Tampa-based company. Dan enjoys golfing, country music, bourbon, travel, oysters, and a medium-rare steak. Dan can be found on Twitter at @DK_Thompson.