The Definitive Guide to What Is and What Isn’t Targeting in College Football

Denzel Ward Ohio State Football Buckeyes

The targeting rule in football — both professional and college — was implemented with the best of intentions.

The rule was created to protect players and to decrease the number of serious hits to the head and neck area of every player on the field.

The penalty of immediate disqualification seems steep to some, but the only way to quell such savagery is to make the penalty so severe that players understand that they must make clean hits.

The safety of the players is paramount, and so even though many “old schoolers” don’t like the rule, it is a necessity in a game being played by bigger and faster men than ever before.

A large part of the disdain for the rule comes from a lack of understanding of the actual rules by football fans.

I believe that after I explain the rules and show you the video below, you will no longer have any questions as to what is, or isn’t, targeting. It is all very simple if you just know the rules.

First, here are the rules as laid out by the NCAA (highlighting is theirs).

In this video is an example of targeting followed by an example of a perfectly clean hit.

In the first play, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward clearly targets unprotected wide receiver Taivon Jacobs using the crown of his shoulder, which is arguably the most devastating quadrant of a person’s body. And Ward targets Jacobs’ entire upper chest region, which is an area of a person’s torso that contains some of a body’s most important organs.

Until players understand that they cannot use their shoulders as weapons against the chests of their defenseless counterparts, we must continue to eject these rule-breakers until there is nobody left on the sideline to field a team.

The second play in the video is an example of how defense should be played. Where Denzel Ward targeted the upper body of Taivon Jacobs using something as dangerous as his shoulder, Michigan linebacker Devin Bush merely pinpointed a very specific area on Brian Lewerke, which happened to be the most protected part of the quarterback’s body — his head.

That’s called safety, folks.

Ward targeted an entire region of the receiver’s body because he just didn’t care what kind of destruction was leveled. Bush’s hit, meanwhile, kept the area of impact hyper-specific, which limits the bodily destruction by avoiding the body entirely.

The fact that the broadcasting team never even mentioned the word “targeting” should have been your first clue that you don’t know the actual rules. And the fact that no flags were thrown and no call came down from the booth upstairs only reinforces the need for better understanding of the rules by the fans who are too emotionally invested to see things clearly.

After watching the respective plays above, however, you are much better versed in the subject than you were before.

If we are going to make this game safer, we have to hold those players who violate the rules responsible and punish them accordingly. If we don’t stop this epidemic soon, the number of chest contusions and separated shoulders could very well end the game as we know it.

Fortunately, college football’s referees are front and center in making sure these rules are followed and enforced. We can all rest easily knowing that they are at the forefront of making the game safer, and I have no doubts that the number of shoulder injuries will continue to decrease as long as the rules are properly enforced.

38 Responses

  1. Wow, Gerd. I had no idea what a diverse readership you’d acquired.

  2. Was checking the internet to see the reaction of sports fans regarding the targeting penalties from the Maryland/Ohio State game. I see a lot of uproar in Buckeye nation regarding the penalty on Mr Ward. No worries, it had no effect on the outcome of the game and he is available for the next game. The Maryland reciever was in a vulnerable position, Ward could have wrapped him up and tackled him or gone for the ESPN sports center highlight reel kill shot. It worked like a champ for him, his hit is all over the TV and internet. The NFL and NCAA have been cracking down on the kill shots the last few years, with the CTE issues, lawsuits and things like that. So don’t be too outraged over this. Perhaps, the NCAA should credit Ohio State with another touchdown making the final score 69-14, or how about we all just get together for a big barbecue. The hit I found outrageous from that game was the kill shot on the sliding Maryland QB head. When it comes to that hit all I hear is crickets. I think the Ohio State player should stay out until the Maryland QB is cleared to play again – put a stop to that BS real quick.

  3. great article tony! you had me for a moment…it is utterly ridiculous the BS that gets called on OSU…do the research on penalties against and for OSU, it is unreal; yet we still dominate the conference.
    I was blown away in real time by the SCum player hit…and the fact that it was never “called down” during all the player stoppages/time out’s is unreal, that to me is the major MISS by the “booth” and big ten officiating. What the heck is the guy in the booth watching? raindrops?

  4. I think the targeting rule is pretty clear – if the hit makes the crowd go “ooh”, then the ref throws the flag and it’s targeting. Doesn’t matter where/how the hit occured.

  5. First, funny article, thx.
    But, if this hit would have occurred in the second half, requiring Ward to sit out the first half of the next game, is there a way for the school to petition a re-review? and who makes the review calls? refs there at the stadium or a central command center so they might be consistent across all games?

  6. great shoulder/chest hit Mr Ward…no targeting intent…

  7. This is a terrible rule which doesn’t do what its supposed to do. Most concussions occur from the whiplash effect from hitting the ground. Kids are wearing a suit of armor. People who play rugby are just as big and the contact is the same but they wear no pads. Its a contact sport. You cannot protect people. The idea that you can is laughable. What you want is to take away the contact if you want safety. You cannot have rules where the enforcement is completely arbitrary and murky at best. It ruins the game. You aren’t protecting players with this rule. You are discouraging aggressiveness and punishing players for good play.

    Its a bad rule.

  8. Oh my God people! Gerd is a sarcastic writer at times. He publishes informing articles also but he has an obvious affinity for satire.

    Directly after the comparison video of Ward/Bush, how could anyone miss the blatant satirical observations? Why would Gerd absurdly critique Ward to the point it should take zero analysis to recognize satire, while praising Bush? For the love of God, this is an OSU site!

    some of you paid no attention in English class (there are multiple writing styles and things called litery devices), lack any common sense, or are being typical trolls. Stop bitching about a writer’s inaccuracy when you can’t comprehend what Gerd is accomplishing by utilizing satire to show the inconsistent officiating and problems with the current language of revised rules.

    Fun read as ways, Gerd! Not a vanilla “targeting rules are a problem” article that just regurgitates past arguments and analysis.

  9. Best tackle I have seen all year by a Buckeye DB and the poor kid is thrown out of the game. Big Ten Refs are horrible. Should have been a fumble returned for a TD. Protect the kids from helmet spearing by all means and try not to go after their knees, but let them play tackle football. The kid was just fine and continued playing. He just took a shot and that is a part of football.

  10. Ok, this article was satire, but I would have rather read a good article on maybe an interview with the refs and replay officials reason for such a poor and quick call for targeting. Kicking a player out of the game for targeting has to be a right call. I was totally surprised on how quickly the call was made. I was also disappointed that Meyer didn’t stick up for his player. Ward did nothing wrong and tackled how he was taught.

    1. Meyer didn’t see the play. Refs aren’t made available to the media.

  11. Bush has had at least one targeting hit in almost every game this season all of which have been uniformly ignored by the Big Ten officials but have on occasion drawn the attention of the broadcast analysts (see Florida and MSU games). Big Ten officials have been the most inconsistent on this call this season.

  12. It just occurred to me that you wrote this article in jest because the video examples show how the officials don’t even follow the targeting rule consistently. Very well written and I owe you an apology.

  13. Holy crap I am amazed at the number of people commenting on this article that have clearly never read a Tony Gerdeman article or any Ozone article published over the past 20 years this site has been in existence.
    If you take anything this site publishes literally then you are going to regularly find yourself placing bets on obscure MAC and Sunbelt games based on prediction Tony makes after rereading a old notebooks Tony kept and in which he filled with secret messages he received while faithfully eating Alpha-Bits cereal for every meal during the summer break between 5th and 6th grade back in 1986. Also should be noted that is the same summer 11 year old Tony finally committed himself to following the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard.

  14. For those of you who don’t understand, Tony is being sarcastic. Ward should not have been called and Bush should have been called. I hate this stupid rule.

  15. After reading the comments I worry for your readership, Gerd, as they clearly don’t read your articles often.

    Yes, kids, Gerd was using satire to make a deliberate point about the targeting rule and how blatantly bad it was in ejecting Ward and not so much as calling Bush’s textbook example of targeting.

  16. Tony, in all due respect, you totally mudified the water… Ward made a clean football hit, if you take away how the receiver landed it would never had been called… should Ward have asked the receiver to turn a certain way so he could make a less vulerable hit?… I will agree to totally disagree with your article…

    1. Neal, come on, Tony in his only special way was just showing how the officials are not disciplined in this rule at all!!

  17. Ward did everything right. He slowed down waiting for the receiver to turn toward him, he turned his head away to avoid head to head contact, he led with his arms to the torso, and as a result he saw the ball pop free to pick up and run in for a TD … BUT

    Arnette’s foul, on the other hand, was a good call. He should not travel to Nebraska and should be benched until he cleans up his act

  18. This is satire. You guys need to pick up on sarcasm better!

  19. Jim Davidson-thanks for noting that Tony’s article is sarcasm. Although, it appears that many of the responders here do not speak Onion.

    Reading the rules-even though it was just a set up for sarcasm-is helpful. How? Think about the indicators in note 1. Denzel did none of them, Bush did.

    Back to Onion talk for a moment, give the refs of MU vs. MSU a break. It was raining.

  20. Tony. YOU should be flagged for targeting defenseless internet users. You KNEW this topic would certainly draw views and responses. That means that your targeting was with intent with the top of your head! You should be ejected………….where’s my darned torches.

    Well done Tony, well done!

  21. Confusing article only muddies an already confusing topic.

    1. If written in sarcasm my faith restored,

  22. BS…….Denzel Ward targeted another player on the opposition team who had made a catch and had turned making a football move after the reception. If said other player doesn’t want hit……….there’s always ballet.

    The call on Denzel was 100% wrong. The call On Damon Arnette was the exact opposite.

    They should take their telly tubby sissiness back to romper room. Then again. Those mean old pre-schoolers would get ejected for bumping into one of those sissies.

    There’s a place for the rule but it’s not as a fashion statement for failed jocks wearing zebra stripes to “make and example” of anyone. Like thousands of others today I have watched that sequence with Denzel over and over and over. I’m a spoiled brat. I have some really cool video enhancement software and a 75″ SUHDTV where I can literally count the hairs on players faces inside their facemasks. There was no targeting “of a defenseless player.” The guy caught the ball and turned to go upfield. He got decleated by a defender who had his head up and was”easy on him” At no point in the sequence do the helmets collide. If a receiver has to dance through hoops to catch a pass and it leaves him exposed, the correct call should be against the quarterback for leaving his teammate exposed to get plastered in a FULL CONTACT game of football.

    I know what the rules say, and the rules are whacked. I know goofball jock failures want their 15 minutes of fame making “controversial” calls to hear their effeminate voices over a loud speaker system and the TV, but, they are causing irreparable harm to the game by what amounts to a dumb ruling on a football play.

    The rule is horrendously worded. I don’t care about the “intent” of the rule. If it’s applied incorrectly, as it CLEARLY was on Denzel Wards hit, then some genius lawyer should be shot in the head for ever contriving such a pathetically open ended arbitrary piece of nonsense. His or her license should forever be revoked

  23. Sorry but this just muddied the water even more and likely confused fans even further. Add in the entire subjectivity component by officials and this good-intentioned rule is ruining the game.

  24. What an arrogant and inaccurate load of crap.

    No argument with wanting to make the game safer but your interpretation of Ward targeting the chest doesn’t jive with the rule which clearly refers to targeting the “head and neck”. Where does the rule prohibit a forceful impact to the chest? Maybe you think it should say that but it doesn’t. In your example of Bush pinpointing contact with “the most protected area of the body–the head” you clearly miss the point. Your reasoning suggests that it is better to pinpoint contact with the head which is just wrong.

    Hopefully this whole article was your attempt at sarcasm because it sure misses the correct interpretation of the targeting rules. It also suggests the fan base is half-cocked and ignorant, that we don’t understand the rules, are too emotionally invested to see things clearly, and that you are the self-appointed savant who will correct our thinking with your wisdom.

    I will give you points for the amusement factor. You are so far off base that the whole piece is laughable.

  25. In the second example, the defender’s contact with the ball carrier met both criteria of targeting. Not only did he lead with the crown of his helmet, but he also attacked the head of the ball carrier who was rendered defenseless by the first defender to make contact. This is a clear cut case of targeting.

    Objective journalism and analysis is clearly not in your wheelhouse. I would suggest becoming a presidential press secretary.

  26. The rule as highlighted above requires one of two factors at the minimum to be true:

    1. Contact between the crown of the tackler’s helmet and the offensive player.
    2. Contact between the tackler and the head or neck of the offensive player.

    All other factors contributing to a targeting call are completely contingent upon one of those factors being true.

    By your own description of the hit, the tackler contacted the chest of the ball carrier with his shoulder, which meets neither of the criteria necessary to be considered targeting. There is no rule against hitting a player in the chest with a shoulder with the intention of tackling him or separating him from the ball to create a fumble. I agree that safety is paramount and that player are bigger, faster and stronger than ever. This does not mean that a player should be penalized for delivering a vicious hit that falls within the parameters of the rules.

    Your analysis is subjective you your opinion and not the written rules, and, since your opinion does not align with the rules, it is inaccurate.

  27. good article showing the absolute inconsistencies of the refs and this rule…Ward’s hit was a very solid, clean football hit that clearly didn’t target the opponent’s head or neck. I am all for having a targeting rule but apparently the training of the referees and the replay officials wasn’t done properly as these above plays indicate so let’s hope revisions/proper training is on the way very soon.

  28. You need to actually read the targeting rule: leading with the crown of the helmet. Then rewatch the Michigan defender “lead” with his helmet to hit the quarterback.

    The time you spent trying to clarify targeting was a waste of your time and mine.

    1. I’m assuming you need the punchline of a joke explained to you quite often. This is a satirical commentary on the absurd targeting calls and the confusing manner in which targeting is explained in the rulebook.

      Why would an OSU site shred Denzel Ward while defending a blatant targeting penalty committed by a TTUN player? Not being able to recognize sarcasm is one thing, but missing the joke of blasting OSU and praising TTUN on a Buckeye site probably means you can’t identify a joke in any fashion.

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