Indiana thought it had a 24-point lead early in the fourth quarter over Virginia after linebacker Greg Gooch sacked Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert and teammate Robert McCray returned the ball for a touchdown.
It was a pretty routine fumble return for a touchdown, right? Well, at least as routine as a sack turning into a touchdown can be.
Alas, the play was wiped off. After McCray scored, the play was reviewed for possible targeting. A targeting penalty wasn’t called on the field, but replay officials felt Gooch’s hit on Benkert deserved a second look.
After review, officials determined Gooch’s hit on Benkert was targeting. Not only was the touchdown wiped off the board and a 15-yard penalty assessed on Indiana, Gooch was ejected from the game.
Was it targeting? Well, It sure doesn’t seem like Gooch is trying to make helmet-to-helmet contact with Benkert. But given that their helmets collide the way they do and the way the targeting rule is written, we understand why it was deemed to be targeting. The crown of Gooch’s helmet makes contact with the side of Benkert’s.
Hits like these show the blurry line between player safety objectives and players trying to make good tackles. Had Gooch hit Benkert in the chest, it’s probably not a targeting call. But how do you expect a player to rush the quarterback and also think about a way to tackle him to ensure that he won’t get a targeting call? It’s tough. And sometimes calls like these happen.
Virginia ended up scoring on the possession to cut Indiana’s lead to 27-17, though the Hoosiers ultimately held on for a 34-17 win.
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