Alabama LB Mack Wilson delivered one of the most devastating special teams plays in recent memory on Saturday and sent Texas A&M kick returner Speedy Noil flying off his feet and straight into concussion protocol.
This was a ferocious hit that got Alabama’s defense fired up, perhaps helping it to force a punt to close out the Aggies’ next drive. If you watch the replay of the hit, you can almost see Noil’s facemask go concave into his face.
Mack Wilson just layed the hammer ?? https://t.co/UmoJ99N4vB
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) October 22, 2016
“Is it helmet-to-helmet?” broadcaster Gary Danielson asked while watching the replay. “Yes it is!”
Of course, Wilson’s hit was not reviewed and he stayed in the game and even made another crushing special teams tackle. Though millions of fans watching at home could clearly see that it was targeting, the refs decided not to review it. Perhaps the call wouldn’t have been at the center of so much scrutiny had the rule not come up just a few drives later.
Texas A&M linebacker Claude George intercepted Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second quarter and was returning the ball when Aggies Donovan Wilson came in with an ill-advised flying tackle. The play was reviewed and Wilson was (rightly) ejected.
Sweet Jesus!! pic.twitter.com/2lHuiE0AdL
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) October 22, 2016
Alabama coach Nick Saban was asked at an Alabama booster event whether the play should have been called targeting, and he argued that it wasn’t.
“It was a great hit,” Saban said per SEC Country’s Marq Burnett. “I know some people made something about the fact that it was targeting, but it’s not an unprotected player. The guy’s running with the ball. So, we always tell our players that we want you to lower your target and see what you hit, even when you tackle, so that we don’t get in those situations. But that wasn’t a foul because it was not an unprotected player.”
Saban would have been right if he was referring to Rule 9-1-4 of the NCAA rulebook, which regulates hits on defenseless players. However, Rule 9-1-3 is a separate targeting rule that regulates against leading with the crown of the helmet during a tackle. Either the best coach in college football pretended not to know the rule, or legitimately has no idea what the rule is – neither is encouraging.
Is there really any argument that he didn’t lead with the crown of his helmet?
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 22, 2016
Targeting has become to college football what a catch is to the NFL: I’m just as sure Dez caught it as I am Wilson committed targeting. Each of the leagues have been more than happy to play me for a fool.
With the danger of college football, the NCAA obviously needs to take whatever measures it can to keep its players safe. The actual targeting rules are excellent rules, if executed correctly. College football should do everything in its power to prevent head-to-head collisions and CTE down the road.
But multiple years into the new targeting protocols, we are still seeing tremendous inconsistency in enforcement of the rules. It’s mind-boggling that these plays could both be obvious to the viewers, but completely glossed over by the officiating crew. Either fans still don’t understand what targeting is, or the officials aren’t seeing the same game that they are.
From a procedural standpoint, it’s hard to say what the issue is. There is an SEC replay center at the headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., that is meant to streamline these issues. There seems to be at least some success. As of a few weeks ago, AL.com pointed out the replay center has been involved in some way with every targeting ejection this season.
The league simply can’t sit and pretend this is still the implementation of a new rule, we’ve had years of this. If targeting continues to be an inconsistent distraction, the conference — and NCAA — must find a way to more effectively implement the safety changes or risk losing out on frustrated viewers.