Under new controversial rule, Clowney would have been ejected for ‘The Hit’

Outback Bowl

Carolina and SEC fans around the country have celebrated Jadeveon Clowney’s hit endlessly. Hell, any football fan knew that it was the hit of the 2012 season, setting up an epic Heisman run for 2013. It even won the ESPY for best play.

But don’t expect any play like that to be celebrated in 2013. In fact, two different officials said Clowney would have been ejected for his electrifying hit on Michigan’s Vincent Smith.

Under the new rule, officials will eject players who lead with the crown of the helmet while targeting a ‘defenseless’ player above the shoulders, not to mention a 15-yard penalty. If the hit occurs in the first half, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game, but if it occurs in the second half, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game and for the first half of the next game.

This will change the game as we know it.

The biggest issue of the new rule is, of course, defining ‘targeting’ and ‘defenseless’. There are no cheap shots allowed on kickers, punters or quarterbacks after interceptions, as all are deemed defenseless. Players can block them, but no cheap shots. Return men in the act of catching a ball are also defenseless.

I’ll buy Aaron Murray is defenseless in this hit, but a running back moving towards the line of scrimmage deemed defenseless? That’s nearly impossible to determine.

While speaking with the ACC media yesterday, officiating coordinator Doug Rhoads said Clowney would have been ejected for his hit. Rhoads said he felt confident that Clowney used the crown of his helmet, which is deemed an ejectable offense under the new rule. But Rhoads isn’t the only official chiming in on the hit. Former NFL official and FOX Sports talking head Mike Pereira told SBNation’s Steven Godfrey, “If I’m an official, based on ‘when in doubt’, he’s out. He’s ejected. And when that goes to replay there’s no way to overturn it. There’s a great potential that hit causes an ejection this year.”

Clowney is listed at 6-6, while Vincent Smith is listed at 5-6. Can Clowney really get himself low enough to make legal hits – below the shoulders – on 5-6 to 5-8 running backs?

This rule change is not only controversial; it’s a game changer and the biggest rules change in a decade.



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  • This is unbelievable. For as much crap as people gave clowney for calling players scared, the media and officials sure dont help their case pussifying football like this. You can watch the hit 100 times. And 100 times youll see a clean hit on a rb taking a hamdoff that just happen to be flat footed at that moment.

  • No way Clowney should be ejected for this. It was a clean hit, and it’s called football. I know the game is changing based on injuries, but if you have to penalize Clowney – penalize him. Don’t eject him.

  • I think if they really want to start talking safety, they should start banning dreadlocks and other hairstyles that involve having a lot of hair. Most hits that take helmets off involve players that have dreadlocks. Because of the increased amount of hair, they wear larger helmets that don’t really fit properly, increasing the chance that it will fall off, and decreasing the players safety.

  • thats ridiculous, the game is becoming 2 hand touch…. yeah the hit on murray WAS illegal though

    • Not really. Murray wasn’t actually a defenseless player, he was just a player who forgot his place on the field and got creamed for it. One of the first things any QB learns is “don’t be a hero”. If you throw a pick, either hit the turf or run to your bench, as a QB running toward the return is fair game.

    • The hit was legal. He hit him in the shoulder. Just like the Clowney hit was legal also. Would it have been illegal as you claim if it was Bubba Joe Lineman?

  • If you look at the picture above it is not the case at all. Clowney’s facemask looks to be clearly below the RB’s shoulder even. Seems very clean considering Clowney is a foot taller than him as you mentioned

  • If officials want to comment on the hit maybe they should comment on getting the call correct on the play before when Michigan was measured short but still given the first down!

  • I’m still not even seeing where Aaron Murray was defenseless on the play you mentioned. Per NCAA rules, a defenseless player is defined as:
    a.A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.
    b.A receiver whose focus is on catching a pass.
    c.A kicker in the act of or just after kicking a ball.
    d.A kick returner whose focus is on catching or recovering a kick in the air.
    e.A player on the ground at the end of a play.
    f. A player obviously out of the play.

    (A) would be the only close one, and that doesn’t really count if the QB has thrown a pick and is still involved in the play. One could argue he wasn’t participating in the play, but they’d have to explain why he was running toward the Alabama bench after throwing an interception.

    • Was it a helmet to helemt hit on A. Murray? From the tape…it was an H to H hit. So, it was illegal. If A. Murray would have been hit shoulder pad or lower….no issues.

    • F. Is the answer to your question. How Clowney’s tackle would be called illegal is beyond explanation and this could be a year where the national champion is determined by officials making questionable calls. This is ridiculous.

    • If that was the beginning of Murray’s approach to make a tackle I doubt that blockers would have been needed to stop him, probably the wind off the running back would have kept him from getting in the neighborhood. AL gets away with cheap play and It has to stop. What’s your excuse for some of the other unpunished stunts where the players admitted it, ie, for example practicing turning the player being tackled head down before continuing the tackle. In the real world repeated bad behavior does not get repeated benefit of the doubt.

  • Clean, hard football hit. Clowney’s head was upright – he saw what he was hitting.

  • The media need to make it known who is making these ridiculous rules. Not tell us the name of some committee, but put the people’s names, faces and email addresses out so we can direct our vitriol toward those who are trying to ruin the sport. Safety is important, so is fun and the integrity of the game. The line has moved too far toward safety if Clowney’s hit is a penalty.

  • I can’t believe this. Just another example of today’s ‘flight from aggressive’ culture. Nothing wrong with someone getting their clock cleaned. And how dare they attack Clowney’s play? Do they remember the play prior to that one?? “South Carolina deserves to have it, and they do!” Beautiful moment in TV programming, if you ask me

  • HELMETS COME OFF WHEN: 1. laughable volumes of hair are stuffed between the head and the helmet, news flash, the nature of hair is not rigid, or securable, 2. the helmet wearer forgets to snap the strap. 3. the helmet wearer is too much of a baby to wear a helmet with a tight strap. 4. the face mask is turned at an angle where other players equipment makes contact on a tangent or passing by in close proximity AND 1. THRU 3 CONDITIONS ABOVE APPLY.

  • As we were taught to hit with our heads up, facemask to our target, with a stiff, bull neck … how are players supposed to hit people? The point of a hit is to 1) stop a runner from advancing, 2) block a defender from making a tackle and 3) cause a turnover. This is ridiculous, and no referee will be able to fairly decipher a crown hit versus a high-facemask hit. Ludicrous … and not the rapper!

  • Have any of these alleged referees looked at the picture above? If they have and still say they would kick him out of the game based on this rule, they should not be allowed to referee at all for the 2013 season. A running back running up the middle with the ball in his hands, or attempting to at least, has never been defined as “defenseless.” And how can one of these referees be allowed on the field when they don’t understand what the crown of the helmet actually is? Incredible. And sad.

  • So tackling a running back right in the chest is an ejectable offense huh? The only reason his helmet comes off is because he lowers his head into the hit. Clowney doesn’t go near the neck or head, he knows better. This is just dumb.

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