Bangin’ my head over helmet hits

I’m angry.

And I took out my frustration on everybody in the FOX Command Center during college football’s Rivalry Saturday. I even targeted sweet Britnee, who tweets for me.

Doesn’t anybody teach how to wrap up and tackle anymore?

Listen, I get it. Teams are pumped up to play their archrivals. But there were so many examples of targeting that took place Saturday, you would have sworn it was still Black Friday with cranky shoppers fighting over cell phones.

I also understand the rules and need to protect players. What’s frustrating is the inconsistencies of how safety-related fouls are being called. At times they are being called when it looks like the contact is marginal, and then at other times vicious helmet-to-helmet hits are not whistled.

The NCAA rulebook on page 39 (rule 2, section 26) is very clear when it defines tackling: “Tackling is grasping or encircling an opponent with a hand(s) or arm (s).’’

Too many times now, players are not trying to tackle their opponents. They are targeting them and using their helmets to initiate the blows.

Back to the rulebook. It defines targeting as follows (rule 9, article 3): “No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul.’’ Article 4 goes on to add: "No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul."

While targeting is clearly illegal, players continue to do it, players continue to get injured and officials continue to call it inconsistently. My main gripe with the officiating is not when calls are made that are questionable — it’s when vicious hits are not called with the crown of the helmet.

I counted at least eight times Saturday that targeting took place. Some were called, some weren’t and there were plenty of injuries.

Here are two targeting hits that were called that I want to discuss.

THE GAME: Baylor at Texas Tech

THE SITUATION: Texas Tech had the ball, second-and-9 from the Texas Tech 22-yard line with 10:47 left in the second quarter. Texas Tech led 21-7.

THE PLAY: Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege rushed the ball for 8 yards and was tackled on the play by Mike Hicks. A personal foul was called on Hicks for targeting.

MY TAKE: This was a huge hit on Doege, but it was questionable whether it was actually illegal or not. Hicks was leading with the crown of his helmet, but the contact appeared more with the shoulder than with the helmet.

So, it’s questionable, but it was called and I think that was exactly what the rulebook says to do when in question. So I say, keep throwing the flag for this type of hit until defenders realize that they need to grasp and encircle an opponent to tackle him.



THE GAME: Rutgers at Pittsburgh

THE SITUATION: Rutgers had the ball, fourth-and-5 at the Rutgers 7-yard line with 2:37 left in the second quarter. Pitt led 7-0.

THE PLAY: Rutgers’ Justin Doemer punted the ball for 29 yards, which was caught by Pitt’s Cameron Saddler. Two penalties were called on this play. Saddler was called for a delay-of-game penalty for returning the kick after signaling for a fair catch, and a personal foul was called on Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene for targeting Saddler on the tackle.

MY TAKE: Here’s another reason why the targeting rule has been emphasized. It’s not just the player who was targeted that the game is out to protect, but they also want to protect the actual player who does the targeting.

In this case, Greene, on the dead run, led with the crown of his helmet and hit Saddler helmet to helmet. Who got the worst of it? Greene, who is the one that tried to punish Saddler instead of trying to tackle him.



Here are two that weren’t called, but should have been.

THE GAME: Florida at Florida State

THE SITUATION: Florida State had the ball, first-and-10 at the FSU 42-yard line with 11:23 left in the fourth quarter. Florida State led 20-16.

THE PLAY: Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel was sacked by Antonio Morrison, causing a fumble that was recovered by Florida’s Dominique Easley.

MY TAKE: This is exactly what the NCAA is trying to prevent. Concussions and their lasting effects are a concern on all levels of football. And if you go back to the definition of tackling, there was no attempt to grasp or encircle Manuel. It was merely an attempt by Morrison to take Manuel down by punishing him by leading with the helmet. This might have been one of the worst examples Saturday, but it did not draw a flag.



THE GAME: Oklahoma State at Oklahoma

THE SITUATION: Oklahoma had the ball fourth-and-5 at the Oklahoma 36-yard line with 12:40 left in the fourth quarter. The score was tied at 38.

THE PLAY: Oklahoma’s Tress Way punted 54 yards and it was returned by OSU’s Charlie Moore for 13 yards. On the play, Oklahoma State’s Ashton Lampkin put a wicked hit on Oklahoma’s Julian Wilson, but no foul was called.

MY TAKE: It’s not always the runner that gets targeted. Wilson was trailing the runner when Lampkin picked him off with a helmet-to-helmet shot. Wilson ended up hurt on the play.

I understand sometimes contact that is helmet-to-helmet is unavoidable, but Lampkin had time to line up Wilson and lead with the shoulder to the midsection. Lampkin chose instead to go with a helmet to the head and it wasn’t called. You might be able to make a case, since the contact occurred behind the run, that the officials didn’t see it. But if they did see it, it needed to be called. It’s not even questionable.

And while I might have targeted my colleagues in the Command Center, nobody got hurt. The same can’t be said of those who were on the field Saturday.