Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith was ejected in the second quarter against Michigan after this hit, making PSU even thinner at LB. It was ruled targeting on the field and then confirmed after review.
He’s very clearly just diving to try and catch the ball. Yep, the defender has just as much right to the ball as the offensive player does, according to the rules.
His shoulder also makes contact with the “head or neck area” of a player who’s trying to catch a ball, which is targeting, according to the letter of the NCAA’s rulebook. The book also dictates that when officials are in doubt, it is targeting. Still, though, this isn’t even a hit attempt:
This call isn’t fair, obviously. We can disagree about whether officials should follow the exact letter of the law, but it’s clear Smith wasn’t even trying to hit the Michigan player, let alone hit him unsafely (whatever that means in the context of football).
ABC’s commentators disagreed with the call, and here’s one rules expert:
I don't feel it is targeting at Michigan. No indicator. He is reaching for the ball. Contact is incidental.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) September 24, 2016