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Saturday should bring suspensions
Week 3 was a particularly vicious one in college football, with several helmet-to-helmet hits Saturday that likely will draw some stiff penalties from the NCAA.
In the NFL, players can be fined and suspended for such hits. In the college game, only suspensions can be levied, but missed time may loom for some players.
Let’s take a closer look at three of these helmet hits and then a few other interesting calls.
THE SITUATION: Florida State had the ball, second-and-8 at the Oklahoma 23-yard line with 14:18 left in the second quarter. Oklahoma led 7-3.
THE PLAY: Florida State QB E.J. Manuel’s pass to Kenny Shaw at the goal line was broken up by Oklahoma’s Javon Harris and Tom Wart. Shaw was sandwiched between the two defenders, hit in the head by both players. Harris was called for the personal foul.
MY TAKE: This is exactly why all sports leagues are adjusting their rules to further protect players. No one wants to see a player lying on the ground motionless while they worry whether he ever will walk again. While the speed of the game and body positioning make it difficult to play defense on a defender, the onus is on the defender to find a way to lower his target and avoid any contact with the head or neck area. It’s also the reason why officials are told to call the foul even if there is some doubt whether there was contact to the head.
THE SITUATION: Texas had the ball, third-and-10 at the UCLA 19-yard line in the final minute of the second quarter. Texas led 21-7.
THE PLAY: Texas QB Case McCoy completed a 7-yard pass to Mike Davis to the UCLA 12. Texas’ Marquise Goodwin, who was blocking on the play, was called for a 15-yard penalty, which UCLA accepted.
MY TAKE: This is a big point of emphasis in college football, where the rule is even broader than the NFL rule. NCAA rule 9, section 1, article 3 states: "No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with a crown (top) of the helmet. When in question, it is a foul." That was the case on this play. UCLA’s Andrew Abbott never saw the blindside block coming. It was clearly close enough as to whether the helmet made contact that the foul was merited. I would be surprised if Abbott did not sustain a concussion, which is something the NCAA is trying to rid from the game.
Utah at BYU
THE SITUATION: Utah had the ball, third-and-8 at the BYU 12-yard line with 7:32 left in the first quarter. Utah led 7-0.
MY TAKE: This is yet another high hit that will be reviewed as a possible suspension. It’s a clear lead with the helmet and helmet-to-helmet contact. Even though the foul was not called, the play will get reviewed by both the commissioners of the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. This one might have been the most egregious all day.
THE SITUATION: USC had the ball, second-and-10 at the USC 11-yard line with 1:42 left in the second quarter. USC led 14-3.
MY TAKE: Woods caught a pass and was headed upfield when his helmet came off during the run on the FX Game of the Week. The officials allowed the advance down to the 4-yard line. A rule was put in about five years ago stating that when a runner’s helmet comes off, the play is dead immediately. The NFL copied that rule a year later. No one can question the merit of this rule as the ball carrier is totally unprotected with 11 guys chasing him. Once the helmet comes off, anything that happens after that in regards to a spot or a fumble is irrelevant. The replay official did a good job of shutting down this play and adjusting the spot back to the 9-yard line, which is where Woods’ helmet first came off. This rule is just another example of expanding players’ safety.
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THE SITUATION: Washington had the ball, fourth-and-10 at the Washington 42-yard line with 1:52 left in the second quarter. The score was tied 17-17.
THE PLAY: Washington’s Kiel Rasp punted the ball 32 yards to the Nebraska 26 and a fair catch was signaled by Nebraska’s Tim Marlowe. The ball bounced off Marlowe’s leg and Washington recovered the ball. But the Huskies’ Cort Dennison was called for catching interference and the penalty was accepted, bringing the ball to the Nebraska 41.
MY TAKE: It was "interference with the opportunity" day in Lincoln. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a game in which three interference calls were made, all for different reasons. The play referenced above is the one that will create the most controversy. The receiver actually tripped over a teammate’s foot during the play. But when the ball was on its downward flight, Dennison entered from the receiver’s left side, causing the receiver to flinch and let the ball drop. The rule states that a receiver gets an unimpeded opportunity to make the catch. That means he can’t be contacted, nor can his path to the ball be impeded. It’s all going to boil down to whether Dennison interfered with the receiver’s path, making him veer to the right. In looking at it, I think he does. Washington was called twice more during the game for interference with the opportunity to catch a kick, once for contacting the receiver at nearly the same time the ball arrived and the other on an onside kick attempt that was pooched into the air, not kicked into the ground. Even the receiver of an onside kick that is not kicked into the ground gets protection. When all is said and done, I believe that those in charge will deem that all three were correctly called.
Tennessee at Florida
THE SITUATION: Florida had just kicked a field goal to take a 13-0 lead with 11:57 left in the second quarter.
THE PLAY: Florida’s Caleb Sturgis kicked off and Tennessee’s Da'Rick Rogers returned the ball 14 yards to the Tennessee 21-yard line. Tennessee was called for an illegal wedge and the penalty was accepted, moving the ball back to the 11-yard line.
MY TAKE: The wedge rule in the NCAA is exactly the same as the one in the NFL. You cannot intentionally form a wedge of three or more players within 2 yards of one another. This was a player safety rule put into the NCAA last season. This play started with the two-man wedge and a third player situated off to the right. The problem was that during the kick, the third player drifted to within 2 yards of his teammate, thus creating an illegal three-man wedge. It is one of those that is a foul by rule, yet the third player broke off to the right and never proceeded upfield with the other two. It is technically a foul, but one I think officials could go without calling.
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