My e-mail to the Big Ten was pointed: Given the conference’s stated concerns for student-athlete safety, how was Joshua Perry’s hit on Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner not considered targeting?
Big Ten officiating coordinator Bill Carollo called and spent 35 minutes explaining. He agreed with the call. I’m not saying he’s right, and I certainly wouldn’t expect Gophers fans to agree. But at least he explained the decision.
On Saturday, with the Gophers and Ohio State tied 0-0 late in the second quarter, Leidner released a third-down pass. Perry blitzed from his linebacker spot and leveled the quarterback, with the impact snapping Leidner’s head backward. Vonn Bell intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown, but there was a targeting flag. The officials sent it to the replay booth. From that point, the decision took 54 seconds.
ABC showed viewers four replays. The network’s rules expert, Bill LeMonnier, started saying, “Well, the quarterback’s a defenseless player. It looks like the contact’s forcible, the way his head snaps back — .”
The referee was ready: “After further review,” he said, “it is determined that the contact was not to the head or neck area. Targeting is reversed. Number 37 [Perry] remains in the ballgame. The result of the play is a touchdown.”
A crowd of 108,075 at Ohio Stadium roared its approval.
NCAA Rule 9.1.4 states: “No player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul.”
Carollo considers targeting the most important rule football has adopted in recent years because of the way it’s improving player safety. He said there have actually been twice as many targeting penalties called in the Big Ten this year than last year at this time.
But as he said, there are blatant targeting calls, there are calls that clearly aren’t targeting and a gray area in between.
On this hit, “If you look from behind, it looks like targeting,” Carollo said. “And if you saw the officials on the field, they conferred. One threw the flag, and the other didn’t think it was [targeting].”
The replay official needed indisputable evidence to overturn the targeting call.
Carollo said ABC had 11 “very usable” camera angles. The replay official based his decision on a high angle, coming from Leidner’s right side, and the left side of the defense.
“They felt [Perry’s] hands came in first,” Carollo said. “Yes, there was contact to the head, but the forcible contact came into the chest area. We felt that it was a properly thrown flag on the field. But when it went to replay, there was enough evidence to overturn it.”
He added: “[Perry’s] hand went under [Leidner’s] armpit. [The helmet] came through, yes, but his face was up. He didn’t use the crown. He had contact to the chin, but we didn’t think the force was there. We thought it was about 6 inches lower. Most of it was at the chest.”
On Sunday, someone sent me a video clip that ABC apparently didn’t have, an angle from Leidner’s front that clearly showed Perry’s helmet hitting Leidner’s chin.
Had the targeting penalty stood, Perry would have been ejected. Carollo said the decision is final after the replay official looks at it, so there was no chance of retroactive punishment.
“Maybe we don’t have that [angle],” Carollo said. “But we have to make a decision in about a minute’s time, based on all the video angles that we have on TV.”
He added: “We do a pretty good job. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect. But every call’s like that. It’s in the eyes of the beholder.”
• Tracy Claeys’ promotion from Gophers defensive coordinator to head coach was somewhat rare in the Big Ten. Only four other Big Ten head coaches were promoted from within, and two remain in interim roles.
Pat Fitzgerald was Northwestern’s linebackers coach when he took over for Randy Walker, who died suddenly in 2006. Kyle Flood was Rutgers’ assistant head coach in 2012, when Greg Schiano took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job.
Illinois’ interim coach Bill Cubit was offensive coordinator in August, when the school fired Tim Beckman. Maryland interim coach Mike Locksley was offensive coordinator in October, when Randy Edsall was fired.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz was the team’s offensive line coach for nine years under Hayden Fry. He served as an assistant with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens before returning to become Iowa’s head coach in 1999.
• Big Ten West teams went 4-1 against East division teams last week, with the lone loss being Minnesota’s at Ohio State. The West leads the interdivision battle 6-5. Two of the last three crossover games come Saturday: Ohio State at Illinois and Nebraska at Rutgers. Indiana plays at Purdue on Nov. 28.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
1. Ohio State (9-0, 5-0): Urban Meyer, after beating Minnesota: “Today wasn’t a pretty one. We’re better than that.”
2. Iowa (9-0, 5-0): Hawkeyes’ turnover margin, scoring defense and time of possession rank top 10 nationally.
3. Michigan State (8-1, 4-1): The “No Fly Zone” has definitely left the building. Nebraska’s air attack led the big comeback.
4. Michigan (7-2, 4-1): Jim Harbaugh left Jake Rudock in during a 49-16 blowout over Rutgers, seeking more improvement.
5. Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1): Corey Clement missed the trip to Maryland. LB Joe Schobert blocked punt, led team in rushing.
6. Northwestern (7-2, 3-2): Justin Jackson had 186 rushing yards vs. Penn State, combined for 95 previous three games.
7. Penn State (7-3, 4-2): All three losses have come on the road — at Temple, at Ohio State and at Northwestern.
8. Nebraska (4-6, 2-4): Coach Mike Riley has pulled off six wins over top-10 opponents in the past 10 seasons.
9. Illinois (5-4, 2-3): Ke’Shawn Vaughn (180 yards rushing) and Josh Ferguson (133) feasted at Purdue.
10. Gophers (4-5, 1-4): Junior QB Mitch Leidner ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 212 passing yards per game.
11. Purdue (2-7, 1-4): The Boilermakers haven’t won consecutive games since November 2012, under Danny Hope.
12. Indiana (4-5, 0-5): The Hoosiers just can’t finish. They’ve been outscored by 74 points in the fourth quarter.
13. Rutgers (3-6, 1-5): The Scarlet Knights have given up at least 48 points in each of their past four games.
14. Maryland (2-7, 0-5): The Terps are off to their worst conference start since they were 0-5 in the ACC in 1998.