You may have heard that Clemson RB Wayne Gallman ended up missing a majority of Clemson’s win over NC State because of a concussion. Gallman suffered the concussion on this vicious hit and fumbled the ball, turning it over the NC State.
Immediately there was a lot of yelling on social media about how that should have been a targeting call. The announcers even weighed in later in the game by saying it was a legal hit.
The targeting rule is a little long, and it creates some confusion. The situation here also creates a problem because most targeting calls involve receivers, kick returners, and quarterbacks. It isn’t often a hit on a running back after a handoff is flagged for possible targeting.
On this play there are a couple of key elements. First though we’ll look at the targeting rule. The rule itself is actually broken up into 2 parts. The text below is taken from Rules 9-1-3 and 9-1-4
Targeting and Making Forcible Contact With the Crown of the Helmet
ARTICLE 3. No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul. (Rule 9-6) (A.R. 9-1-3-I)
Targeting and Making Forcible Contact to Head or Neck Area of a Defenseless Player
ARTICLE 4. No player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent (See Note 2 below) with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul (Rules 2-27-14 and 9-6). (A.R. 9-1-4-I-VI)
Note 1: “Targeting” means that a player takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball. Some indicators of targeting include but are not limited to:
Launch—a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make forcible contact in the head or neck area
A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area, even though one or both feet are still on the ground
Leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area
Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet
With this hit Article 4 is not an issue. Gallman is not a defenseless player because he is n an obvious running position and able to protect himself. That means we go to Rule 9-1-3 which covers all other possible cases of targeting. This is also where we have a lot of confusion.
After reading the first sentence of the rule it seems like this would be an obvious targeting call. The NC State defender is leading with the crown of his helmet and initiates contact with Gallman. However it isn’t that simple. The second sentence has to be taken into account where an indicator of targeting.
Finding an indicator of targeting is where things get tough. Because of the dynamics of the play there is no launching. The NC State defender is on his fee the entire time and doesn’t even try to use his feet to add force to the hit. Really he just bent over and ran at Gallman. Because of this the second indicator doesn’t exist either. There was no upward and forward thrust to the head or neck area.
Now the last two indicators of targeting are where things get interesting. The first one involves leading with any body part and attacking the head or neck with forcible contact. This hit certainly involved contact with the head, but the initial contact was made with the shoulder and moved into the head area.
The final indicator seems tailor made for the hit where the defender lowered his head and initiated contact with the crown of his helmet.
But with both of these indicators, the phrase forcible contact is key. If, in the eyes of the ref, there is no forcible contact then there is no foul. And I think that’s the key here. The hit was bad, and it didn’t look good. But the refs seemed to feel that the forcible contact from the NC State player was not there. If that was the correct decision or not we’ll have to wait and see what the ACC says. But it certainly wasn’t an obvious call of targeting and depends on a referee interpretation of the rules.
That said, this is the type of hit that should fall under targeting. It would be nice if the NCAA took a look at situations like this where a runner is hit, and adds some language to clarify that these types of hits are targeting. If the goal is player safety then RBs absolutely should get the same protection we see from receivers and QBs.