Targeting in any instance results in a 15-yard penalty, the ejection of the player that landed the hit and if the penalty occurs in the second half, it results in the player sitting out the first half of their next game.
A rule that covers as much grey area as targeting should not have every instance that it’s applied be punished in the same way, especially when the punishment can be detrimental to a team.
The ejection of a player is justified if there’s helmet-to-helmet contact, the hit to the head is clearly intended or the player laying the hit launches themselves. The problem that most college football coaches, players and fans have with this penalty is that a lot of times, the punishment is unjustified because the hit in question doesn’t meet any of those conditions.
There are a lot of different ways that targeting can occur, and with how quick things happen on the field, there are bound to be instances of targeting that are unavoidable and/or unintentional. This can be applied to both instances from last Saturday’s game.
LSU cornerback, Eli Ricks, and Arkansas defensive back, Jalen Catalon, were both ejected for targeting last Saturday for hits on opposing receivers. Both hits are applicable to targeting, as each defender made contact with the receiver’s head, but did these players deserve to be ejected?
Eli Ricks ejected for targeting. Hard to argue with this one. He’s done for the game. The only good news for #LSU is that since it happened in the first half he’ll be back to start next week. pic.twitter.com/ZRn0pveYjB— Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) November 21, 2020
In the instance involving Eli Ricks, it's targeting, but it doesn’t warrant an ejection. Ricks took a bad angle which resulted in unintended contact between his shoulder and the Arkansas receiver’s head.
An accidental hit like this should be avoided for the receiver’s sake, and teams should be running drills that help players avoid these hits in games. But in the fast-paced game of football, sometimes it’s just unavoidable.
Arkansas' Jalen Catalon was called for targeting on this play...pic.twitter.com/IzRhoktXmD— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) November 21, 2020
In terms of being unavoidable, Jalen Catalon’s hit takes the cake. The LSU receiver he hit, Kayshon Boutte, slid into a position where Catalon would’ve had to jump out of the way to avoid getting a targeting call.
Each player’s ejection had an impact on the game. Both their replacements gave up big plays that eventually led to points for their opponents, and in Catalon’s case, it was practically game deciding, as LSU would move into Arkansas territory with the penalty yardage and move within striking distance due to blown coverage by his replacement.
Targeting is a good rule to have, but it’s still in its infancy and should be adjusted regularly until they come up with the best way to call it. For now, a suggestion would be to treat it the same way as a flagrant foul is treated in basketball.
There should be two levels of targeting, one where there’s just a 15-yard penalty and one that includes both the penalty and ejection. Conditions that make the two levels different should revolve around intention, if the hit is avoidable, if they're leading with their head and the chance of injury.
Protecting the players should always be the NCAA’s top priority, but they shouldn’t inflict punishments that are detrimental to the game. Having a penalty with so much grey area and subjectivity that can greatly impact a game, will cause a lot more controversy if something isn’t done to adjust it.