The Utah-BYU football rivalry is a contentious one, and Saturday night's version of the Holy War has been zesty. Things reached a crescendo in the third quarter, when BYU's Kai Nacua and Austin McChesney were called for targeting fouls and ejected on back-to-back plays. At least one of these looks to have been a pretty bad call.
Let's have a look at both. Here's the first play, resulting in Nacua's ejection:
And here's the second play, which led to McChesney's:
The first targeting call looks, to me, like a pretty big mistake.
Nacua (No. 12 for BYU) puts a good lick on Utah's Demari Simpkins. But Nacua clearly leads with his shoulder, and he doesn't hit (nor try to hit) Simpkins anywhere near the head. He strikes what appears to be a clean blow aimed at the chest, and any contact with Simpkins' head looks like the result of Simpkins moving into Nacua while he's tackling him elsewhere.
We know from the rulebook that targeting doesn't necessarily mean "helmet-to-helmet." You can target a player in all sorts of ways. But Nacua's not leading with any part of his body to hit Simpkins in the head, and that's what it would require for this to be the correct call.
If there's nothing to the head or the neck, the tackler needs to lead with the crown of his helmet for targeting to be the right call. Nacua's helmet might contact Simpkins' body somewhere, but he's definitely not leading with it. He's not, for lack of a better word, targeting him. The rulebook says you need to both contact and target the head or neck area. This isn't that.
The second call seems more borderline but is likely correct.
It's hard to always get these things right. But it looks like the officiating crew got the second call right, against McChesney, BYU's No 27. He leads with his shoulder, and he hits Utah's Troy McCormick pretty squarely on the head.
Let's go to the rulebook:
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.
McChesney hits the receiver in the head. He does it hard. That he doesn't lead with his head doesn't matter. What does matter is whether McCormick is "defenseless" – a requirement for a targeting call on a play such as this.
And, based on the rules, McCormick's pretty defenseless.
A receiver attempting to catch a forward pass or in position to receive a backward pass, or one who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.
No one's going to argue any of that, right?