By Mike Stegall
From the Sidelines
Monday evening I watched the Ole Miss/Louisville game on television. I was much more impressed with the improvement in the Ole Miss defense because last year they were dead last in overall defense in the FBS series! Last! Out of 128 teams! That’s bad! They looked like they were much more disciplined, and more aggressive. Louisville was mostly ineffective on offense for much of the first half, but got a little better in the second half. Ole Miss won 43-24 in a pretty entertaining game.
There was one lone bad spot in the game, and that was the ejection of four players (two from each team) in the first half for “targeting.” After the game, Lane Kiffen, the Ole Miss coach in an interview stated that “We just need the Big Ten Officiating crew to teach us how to tackle because we obviously don’t know” in a flippant remark about the ejections.
Well, Lane, I think you are right! You obviously did a poor job of teaching your team, as did Louisville, on how to tackle PROPERLY! On three of the four ejections, I had no problem with. One, I thought the runner lowered his head first, but the defender still led with the crown of the helmet, so…What Lane does not understand is that the officials, and I think most people need to hear this, DO NOT MAKE THE RULES! They are there to ENFORCE the rules and make sure the game is played fairly. All four players that were ejected LED WITH THE CROWN OF THE HELMET on the tackles. Since 2008 this has been the rule. Since 2013, the rule reads “Targeting forbids players from making forcible contact with the crown of the helmet, or making forcible contact to the head or neck area of an opponent.”
As much as I think this rule needs to be tweaked to make it fair, the rule is quite clear. Now, if you have players still leading with the crown of the helmet, I don’t see any reason to be mad at the officials! This is a clear coaching problem whether they like to admit it or not! The officials are just trying to avoid injury to both players. All football is trying to eliminate as many head injuries as possible, and that is why this rule is in place. This rule will prevent neck and head injuries to the TACKLER as well as the offensive player. Granted, I believe most coaches are doing a good job in teaching proper tackling technique. Coaches and spectators don’t like the rule because a player gets ejected for a crown of the helmet hit. I get that, but this rule has been around for 13 years, so everyone should be used to it by now. Lane Kiffen blaming the Big Ten officials (who I thought did a good job!) is him not taking responsibility for his lack of coaching. Yes, I admit that I tend to watch games differently being a former official, and I do admit when they miss a call. I also think that at least 95 percent or more of the time they are right, and in last night’s game, they got it right 100 percent of the time.
Injuries are going to happen in football, that cannot be helped. However, if we can create rules to lessen the effect of the severe contact that takes place in the sport, then I am all for it! I want football to continue to be America’s game, and allowing great players to play longer without injury makes the game more enjoyable for all of us. Lane Kiffen needs to get back to his team, and tell his defensive coordinator to work on tackling, the right way. Penalties like this will cost his team a game someday, and maybe a player his career. Blaming those who are trying to make the game safer and fairly played is irresponsible, especially in this situation.
Don’t like the rule, Lane? — Then work to change it! That’s the way I see it, from the sidelines.
Contributing columnist Mike Stegall a 27-year former OHSAA high school football official and current Darke County Commissioner.