Bo Pelini and the rest of the Nebraska coaching staff are in typical preseason form. Everything is positive. Player ‘x’ is going to be a major contributor, player ‘y’ had a great offseason and player ‘z’ has come a long way.
That kind of positivity is the norm, so when Pelini expressed frustration at Big Ten Media Days over the new targeting penalties being implemented this season, it really struck a nerve.
This season, if a player is called for targeting, his team will receive a 15-yard penalty, but in addition, he will be ejected from the game.
“I understand that it’s about player safety, but we have to make sure we’re not messing up the integrity of the game and how it’s played,” the coach said. “It’s going to be pretty subjective. In my opinion, it’s going a little overboard.”
Pelini isn’t the only one who doesn’t like the idea of in-game ejections. Coaches across the nation have voiced their opposition over the past few weeks, and the rule is taking some serious heat.
The crux of the argument is that a major contributor could be taken out of a game in a crucial spot, effectively crippling a team. Coaches say the rule puts a lot of pressure on officials to make a subjective call in key spots.
Nebraska is doing its best to educate players about the rule.
“We’ve been practicing for four days, and we’ve talked about it three times in meetings because it’s a big deal to lose a key guy maybe the whole game,” NU defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said.
The NCAA sent around a “teach tape,” a video that shows what’s legal and what will get a player thrown out of a game to help coaches prepare their players. Everything still isn’t clear to Joseph.
“It’s hard for anyone to have a clear grasp,” Joseph said. “Josh Mitchell’s play from the Michigan game was on the teach tape. I thought it was weird to see that as an ejectable foul because he missed the guy … and he weighs 150 (pounds).”
The Big Ten released a statement this summer telling it’s officials to operate under the instructions, “if in doubt, throw him out.” The league said it wants to reduce the number of “dangerous hits on defenseless players.” The emphasis is on lowering the target area for big hits.
That’s a noble intention, according to Joseph, but it might not get the job done.
“One thing you are going to see is a lot of knees getting taken out,” he said. “What do you coach? You want your guy to stay in the game, so some coaches are going to have to live with their players being labeled dirty because they are trying to stay legal.”
While Joseph battles to keeping his players reputations clean and keep them in the game, he also battles to keep the target low but not lose any aggressiveness.
“It’s a hard deal for a defensive back because you don’t know how the receiver is going to react when he catches the ball,” Joseph said. “We will go lower, more under the shoulder pads. That’s where we’ll try to go, but you don’t want to take the aggressiveness out of your players.”
Defensive players aren’t the only ones worries about getting on the wrong end of a targeting call this year. Husker wide out Quincy Enunwa doesn’t want to get the boot for delivering on of his signature body blows.
“When I’m going to go hit somebody, I’m not thinking, ‘let me go hit them below their shoulders,’” he said. “Now it’s something that you have to think about.”