The Wrap, version 1.1: Why targeting is dumb, Ohio State and Michigan are hilarious running up the score, and there’s no shame in losing to Western Michigan
Wrapping up the weekend that was in the Land of 10, Week 1 …
The Point After
Look, we get it. You spent the last month banging on your roommate in drill after drill after drill during fall practice. You’ve been waiting for what feels like ages to take out weeks of pent-up angst on a player wearing a different colored helmet.
That said, why the hell are you leading with yours?
At least five different Big Ten defenders at three different schools — including Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell and Minnesota middle ‘backer Cody Poock — spent all or some of Week 1 in the showers after being flagged for targeting. The Gophers had three different players ejected from a season-opening victory over Oregon State. Considering last fall’s first weekend of games amounted to only six targeting calls across all of the Football Bowl Subdivision, that’s some kind of … something.
So what changed? A pair of somethings, actually: rule changes aimed at reducing targeting in 2016.
First, a ball carrier who gives himself up and slides feet-first is considered a defenseless player, which means if you hit him in the head or neck with anything — your helmet, an elbow, hand, forearm, shoulder, a giant foam finger — the flag’s coming out. And then there’s this addition, posted on the NCAA’s official web site early last month (and note the underlined stuff, kids):
By rule, every targeting foul is reviewed by the instant replay official. Up to this point, the replay official’s role has been to verify whether the forcible contact was with the crown of the helmet or was struck at the head or neck area of a defenseless player. Now as part of the review, the replay official is directed to examine all elements of the ruling made by the official on the field, not only the location of the forcible contact. In addition, the replay official is empowered to “create” a foul if he sees an obvious and egregious targeting action that the officials on the field miss. Because the action is so dangerous and the ejection penalty so severe, the committee has made these changes to increase the probability that targeting fouls are correctly ruled and administered.
In other words, even the replay official can flag you from on high, if you were spotted doing something that the zebras downstairs missed.
These are serious implications for a serious offense. And while you applaud the NCAA and coaches for wanting to protect players from the neck up, the spate of calls early on does raise the question as to whether the punishment — the loss of a complete half for the guilty party — truly fits the crime. Perhaps the same point could be made with a suspension for, say, a quarter instead of two whole periods.
The bigger question might be why so many players, in one specific subset (the Big Ten West), could suddenly get sloppy and careless on something that they’ve been told — or should have been told — that officials are really, really looking out for. Football played tight, rigid and careful is often more risky than when the actions are free-flowing and natural. Playing hesitant can get you hurt.
Accidents happen, but bad habits — and dangerous ones such as leading with one’s helmet — can be unlearned, given enough practice. Or enough negative reinforcement.
Things that impressed the CFP committee
- Unranked (and rising) Wisconsin’s 16-14 win over No. 5 (and falling) LSU on a semi-neutral field in Green Bay. If marquee scheduling is ultimately rewarded, then the Badgers just pocketed one very big chip to keep in their pockets in the months to come.
- Ohio State dropping 77 on a Bowling Green team that wasn’t exactly known for its defense, but wasn’t pegged to lose by 67, either. Mercy.
And the thing that didn’t
Let’s get this out of the way: The shame for Northwestern isn’t in losing to Western Michigan at home. The Broncos are as legit as MAC legit gets. Western might have a quarterback (Zach Terrell) better than anybody in the Big Ten outside of Columbus and Iowa City, a legit NFL receiver in 6-foot-3 Corey Davis, and one of the more, um, energetic young stars in the coaching profession in P.J. “Row The Boat” Fleck, an admitted Pat Fitzgerald clone.
The shame is the Broncos were 4-for-4 on fourth-down conversions. On the road. Against a Big Ten defense that was hyped as one of the better five or six in the conference. Terrell was always going to throw the ball all over the place — and will again, against anyone.
But 198 rushing yards? In Evanston? The Wildcats weren’t remotely as good as their 10-3 record in 2015, just as they weren’t as poor as a 5-7 mark in 2013 would portend. But if Team Fitz is going to find that solid middle ground, it’s going to have to man up in the trenches. And quickly.
One man’s rolling Heisman Ballot (Big Ten edition)
- J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State. Six passing touchdowns, one rushing score.
- Jabril Peppers, OLB/S/PR, Michigan. Eight tackles, a sack, and 28 yards in punt returns.
- Malik Hooker, CB, Ohio State. Two interceptions, including a leaping, OMG one-hander.
Thanks for coming; hope we didn’t hurt your boys too badly
Tie: Ohio State 77, Bowling Green 10 and Michigan 63, Hawaii 3.
The only larger margin of victory for Big Blue in a Week 1 matchup? A 65-0 thrashing of Ohio Wesleyan in 1905. Fun fact: Baseball visionary Branch Rickey did his undergrad work at Wesleyan and later obtained a law degree from Michigan.
Not even a pro like Dave Revsine can spin this bad boy
Western Michigan 22, Northwestern 21
See above. It’s not so much that it happened as the way it happened.
Give ’em some love, would ya?
Indiana’s defense, as steered by new coordinator Tom Allen. The Hoosiers notched two Pick-Sixes to fuel a 34-13 win at Florida International last Thursday night. It was the first time an IU defense had run two interceptions back for touchdowns since 1966.
Welcome to the Hot Seat, pal
Les Miles, LSU
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But everyone else is doing it. Besides, Darrell Hazell won big in West Lafayette, Ind., and Pat Fitzgerald ain’t going anywhere unless he wants to depart.
Fake Bo Pelini tweet of the week
FOR THE LAST TIME 9-4 IS NOT BO PELINI DAY
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) September 4, 2016
Random alumni note of the week
Central Florida didn’t win a game in 2015. In new coach Scott Frost’s debut, the Knights smoked South Carolina State 38-0. Is the former Nebraska quarterback another Harbaugh-in-waiting?
If he makes hay in Orlando, it won’t be long before the folks in Lincoln, Neb., notice. Especially if the Mike Riley Love Train starts wobbling off the tracks again. We’ll get a closer look the next two weeks as UCF visits Michigan on Saturday and entertains Maryland on Sept. 17.
3 games coming up we’d seriously pay to watch
- Penn State at Pitt (Noon, ET, ESPN). A rivalry renewed, and about time.
- Iowa State at Iowa (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN). The Cyclones have stubbed their toes against little brother UNI and then bitten the big-brother Hawkeyes before.
- North Carolina at Illinois (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN). How real is Lovie in Year 1? We’re about to find out.
The takeaway number
Whatever the fates do with LSU and Wisconsin from here on out, the two were throwing legitimate top 15-level defenses against one another Saturday and a slew of NFL prospects on the sidelines. And despite all the Leonard Fournettes and Vince Biegels running like wild colts across northeast Wisconsin, you know how many targeting calls we saw at Lambeau Field?
None. Zip. Nada.
You just have to use your head.
No, not like that.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler