Texas A&M defensive back Deshazor Everett was penalized and then ejected for a hit against Rice tight end Klein Kubiak last Saturday under the new targeting rule that came into effect this season. While the rule is meant to protect players, its application is already under scrutiny after the opening weekend of college football. Seven players were ejected from games over the weekend. It's a rule that has two parts and the interpretation involved in the application of the first part by the officials on the field only means another judgment call is necessary on the second part of it from officials in the replay booth.
Due to the fact that Everett was not only penalized but ejected as well, the penalty was a hot topic of conversation at A&M's weekly press conference that included defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, especially because the penalty didn't appear to be applied correctly to Everett in the first place.
"The targeting rule, per se, hasn't changed," said Steve Shaw, the SEC's coordinator of officials, in an Aug. 29 interview. "Targeting a defenseless player above the shoulders or targeting a player with the top or crown of your helmet is a targeting foul. That part hasn't changed."
Replays showed that Everett actually hit Kubiak below the shoulder in the chest area and also led with his shoulder and not his helmet. Kubiak also wasn't even classified as defenseless since the ball ricocheted off of his hands and back up into the air where he had a second chance at a reception. In fact, Kubiak himself tweeted after the game that night, "@DeUcE2NiNa9 (Everett's twitter handle) solid physical football hit in my book. I'll even support #FreeDeshazor. Good luck rest of the year bro."
All of that begs the question: why was it even called in the first place? Snyder himself believes that it was more about perception than reality.
"We've talked to them about lower their target and moving their arms," said Snyder. "Deshazor has the cast on his hand. As you look at him, there is one arm around that looks like it is higher because of the cast. That is a penalty. It is what it is."
Because of Everett's injured hand, he did not appear to wrap up when he was going for the receiver and instead looked to be launching himself (difficult to do in the first place with a cast on your hand). In addition, Everett had to lower his right shoulder to protect his right hand which had the cast on it in the first place.
In spite of those issues, Everett was assessed the penalty and Snyder was left to talk to his team about ways to avoid similar incidents in the future.
"We are talking about lowering your target and bringing your arms," he said. "If you do that, you won't get that penalty."
Snyder said that A&M players needed to aim for the sternum and visualize themselves going lower. Even then, he understands the difficulty of avoiding such penalties on bang-bang plays as fast as Everett's.
"I've played free safety and I told Coach (Marcel) Yates (A&M defensive backs coach), 'It happens so fast.' When you've been playing since you were a kid, it's hard to lower your target. There is a great level of difficulty there," he said.
Snyder also foresees another inherent difficulty in enforcing the rule in that defenders may have to aim at other vulnerable parts of the body in order to avoid a penalty in the first place.
"I'm not a guy that is going to tell them to go below the knees," said Snyder. "That's what scares me about this rule. I'm not going to coach our guys to blow somebody's knees out. That's somebody's child. That is an alternative with this rule but we are not going to do that."
The second part of the rule also involves an ejection if the penalty is confirmed via instant replay. Ejections in the first half cause a player to miss the remainder of that game; ejections in the second half cause a player to miss the first half of the following game and since Everett was tossed in the fourth quarter, he'll have to sit out the first half of A&M's game with Sam Houston State as well. A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin called Shaw Monday morning for clarification of the penalty and the ejection.
"Let me explain how this rule works," said Sumlin. "The targeting rule, which is a new rule: the penalty is assessed. After the penalty is assessed, it goes to a review booth and the review booth looks at it to see whether the player will be ejected or not. The penalty will stand. The review booth goes through and watches the play with the angle that they have and they make a decision, a determination at that point, whether the player is ejected or not. Once the player is ejected, it's not appealable. That's it. We had a discussion about that yesterday morning and so Deshazor will be out for the first half of this week."
Sumlin spoke cautiously on whether or not Everett should have been ejected or not.
"It doesn't matter what I feel like," said Sumlin. "I challenged the call right there on the field so what my feeling was…that's what happens. Officials in our league, the SEC, do as good a job as anybody in the country and I think ... in 30 seconds to make a decision on whether a player leaves the game or not, that's another issue but those are the rules that we have right now."
Sumlin discussed using training tapes to work with A&M defenders to avoid those types of penalties and said the same thing that Snyder did, that Aggie defenders will have to target lower. Even so, it's clear that it will be a learning experience for everyone involved and not just players and coaches. In addition to the seven ejections that occurred nationally, three others were overturned by replay booths and another player, Cal defensive end Chris McClain, had his penalty overturned because it was not reviewed at all. Tulane cornerback Lorenzo Doss was ejected but Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson told nola.com that the head official in that game reported to Johnson that Doss' hit was legal.