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Maryland LB Tre Watson explains his ejection for targeting vs. Michigan

Here’s how his explanation compares with what’s in the targeting rules.

Maryland linebacker Tre Watson was ejected for targeting in the third quarter of the Terps’ loss to Michigan on Saturday. He joined Rayshad Lewis as the second Terp to receive a targeting ejection; both will miss the first half of Maryland’s game against Rutgers.

Here’s the play in question, a hit on Wolverines wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was blocking for a streaking Karan Higdon:

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Peoples-Jones was called for a block in the back for his hit on Maryland’s Marcus Lewis just moments before he was on the receiving end of the blow from Watson. The penalties offset, and Michigan ended up scoring on a 34-yard pass from Shea Patterson to Peoples-Jones.

Watson’s explanation, posted to Twitter a little while after the game ended:

Per the rulebook, this hit is targeting. It’s easy to see Watson’s gripe, though.

To be targeting, a hit must satisfy at least one of two requirements:

No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul.


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.

There doesn’t appear to be much of a question whether Watson makes forcible contact to Peoples-Jones’ head or neck area with his helmet and/or shoulder. He does:


Where Watson seems he would likely disagree is whether or not Peoples-Jones is a “defenseless opponent.” Here’s how that’s defined in the targeting rule:

Note 2: Defenseless player (Rule 2-27-14):

A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.

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.

A kicker in the act of or just after kicking a ball, or during the kick or the return.

A kick returner attempting to catch or recover a kick, or one who has completed a catch or recovery and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.

A player on the ground.

A player obviously out of the play.

A player who receives a blind-side block.

A ball carrier already in the grasp of an opponent and whose forward progress has been stopped.

A quarterback any time after a change of possession.

A ball carrier who has obviously given himself up and is sliding feet-first

The NCAA issued a clarification for 2018: “When in question, a player is defenseless.”

“That was definitely targeting, all the way,” ABC rules expert Jim Blackwood said on the broadcast. “You could see the defender, after the push he kinda held back and then he got blindsided.”

Watson’s in a hard place here. If he can’t see Peoples-Jones throwing his hands up moments after making that block to become a defenseless player, there’s not much he can do. It’s less than a second from the time that Peoples-Jones throws his hands up to the time Watson hits him.

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But even if none of those definitions fit Watson’s hit in this instance, Peoples-Jones is clearly defenseless. He had no way to brace himself for the hit, and doesn’t appear to see Watson coming until it’s too late. The rules of targeting don’t account for intent, nor do the rules care whether it is inconvenient for a player to attempt to tiptoe around his opponent. And the rulebook notes in multiple places that if the refs are not sure, they should rule it as targeting (whether all such calls should result in an ejection is another question).

No matter Watson’s gripe, or whether you argue that the refs missed another potential targeting call earlier in the game, the refs’ decision here jives with what’s in the rulebook.