Targeting penalty gains critics

Missouri wide receiver L'Damian Washington, left, is hit by Florida's Cody Riggs after Washington caught a pass on the first play of the first quarter on Saturday, in Columbia, Mo. Riggs was penalized and ejected on the play for targeting. (The Associated Press)

Published: Monday, October 21, 2013 at 6:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 21, 2013 at 6:22 p.m.

Florida coach Will Muschamp thinks it puts too much in the hands of the officials. Georgia junior safety Corey Moore thinks it puts the defense at a tremendous disadvantage.


Missouri wide receiver L'Damian Washington, left, is hit by Florida's Cody Riggs after Washington caught a pass on the first play of the first quarter on Saturday, in Columbia, Mo. Riggs was penalized and ejected on the play for targeting. (The Associated Press)


Targeting ejections

A look at SEC players ejected for targeting this season:
Aug 31. — Texas A&M defensive back Deshazor Everett vs. Rice
Sept. 7 — Auburn linebacker Kris Frost vs. Arkansas State; Missouri linebacker Andrew Wilson vs. Toledo
Sept. 21 — Florida cornerback Brian Poole vs. Tennessee
Sept. 28 — Missouri cornerback Randy Ponder vs. Arkansas State
Oct. 19 — Florida safety Cody Riggs vs. Missouri; Georgia defensive end Ray Drew vs. Vanderbilt; South Carolina safety Kadetrix Marcus vs. Tennessee.

College football's new ejection penalty for targeting has plenty of critics. But SEC commissioner Mike Slive thinks the greater issue of player safety and limiting head injuries in the sport will eventually outweigh those complaints.

“The targeting rule has done what we hoped it would do,” Slive said. “It's changed behavior. I sit in the command center and watch a lot of games, and it's obvious that coaches and players have adjusted to it. I like it, and I'm pleased with it.”

But it was a rough Saturday for defensive players throughout the SEC. Florida safety Cody Riggs, Georgia defensive end Ray Drew and South Carolina safety Kadetrix Marcus were all ejected in the first half on targeting calls. Riggs was ejected on the first play of the game for leading with his helmet while trying to make a sideline tackle against Missouri receiver L'Damian Washington.

The ejections proved costly. South Carolina, down to its third-string safety, lost 23-21 at Tennessee. Georgia lost 31-27 at Vanderbilt. The Gators, already down three defensive starters going into the game, were routed 36-17 at Missouri.

Replays showed Riggs leading with his helmet, though Washington was in mid-air when Riggs made contact above his shoulders. According to NCAA Rule 9-1-4: No player shall target or initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. A replay official must have indisputable evidence to overturn the call.

“I don't disagree with the call,” Muschamp said following the Missouri game. “I disagree with kicking a kid out of the game in that situation. He wasn't maliciously trying to hurt anybody. Ridiculous.”

But Slive said it's not the job of the officials to judge intent.

“There is no way an official can put himself in a student athlete's head and say he intended to do this,” Slive said. “There are consequences to your actions, not to your thoughts.”

Riggs was the second UF player ejected for targeting this season. Florida cornerback Brian Poole was kicked out of the second half of UF's 31-17 win against Tennessee on a targeting call and was forced to sit out the first half of the following game against Kentucky.

The targeting call against Drew was even more questionable. Replays showed Drew let up when approaching Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, but did shove him above the shoulders shortly after he delivered a pass.

Earlier in the season, Georgia coach Mark Richt questioned whether his defensive players were playing tentatively due to threat of being ejected for targeting. Georgia ranks 13th in the SEC in scoring defense at 33.3 points per game.

“It's like an extra man for the offense,” Moore told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Sometimes you're timid as a tackler. You can't go in there and tackle like you want to because of the rule. It's a nagging rule, and I think it needs to be changed.”

Overall, targeting calls have resulted in the ejections of eight SEC players this season. Are officials getting too whistle happy? In a number of other incidents, players have been initially flagged for targeting only to have the call overturned on replay. It happened in the Georgia-Vanderbilt game when Bulldog linebacker Ramik Wilson broke up a pass intended for Vanderbilt wide receiver Jonathan Krause over the middle on a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. A late flag came in. The call was overturned on replay, but Georgia was still penalized 15 yards.

Slive admitted that remains a flaw in the system.

“There is a lot of discussion on if the ejection gets overruled, is there still a penalty?,” Slive said. “And I think we'll have to talk about it in the offseason. There are times when you could have the ejection reversed, but it is a penalty. It could be roughing the passer, right? It could be something. But there are instances when you look at it again and reverse it, it wasn't really a penalty. But for this year, that's the way the rule is.

“Other than that, I think it's really good for the game.”

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