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Rules review video: Intentional grounding, targeting, and horse-collar tackles

National college officiating coordinator Steve Shaw explains some rulings from Week 2



2023 media video #3

National coordinator of football officials Steve Shaw posted a video breaking down rules and interpretations from Week 2 of the College Football season.

  • Through week 2, games are averaging 7.5 plays per game less than last season, which equates to roughly 8 minutes. Shaw noted this is exactly what the rules committee was looking for with the new clock changes.
  • On a 3rd down in the middle of the 1st quarter, the quarterback rolled out of the pocket and tried to shovel the ball away as he was being tackled. There were no receivers in the area, and the ball did not make it back to the line of scrimmage. As a result, a flag was thrown for intentional grounding. This penalty is enforced from the spot of the foul and comes with a loss of down. Upon replay, it is clear that the quarterback’s knee was down before releasing the ball. It was determined that because there was no competitive advantage to overturning the play to a sack, there was no reason to stop the game for a replay review. The only difference between the two outcomes: a sack on the stat sheet instead of a penalty.
  • After a flea flicker, the quarterback rolled out of the pocket and threw the ball away out of bounds. Though this pass went beyond the line of scrimmage and he was out of the tackle box, it was deemed intentional grounding. Shaw explained that intentional grounding only applies to the person who controls the snap and does not relinquish possession to another player. Because the quarterback originally handed off to the running back, the offensive team lost their ability to throw the ball away without a receiver being in the area.
  • During a two point conversion attempt after a touchdown, the ball is thrown out the back of the endzone for an incomplete pass. The quarterback took a hard hit and was down in pain as the medical staff tended to him. Upon replay, it was determined that the defender who hit the quarterback led with the crown of his helmet and made forcible contact to a defenseless player. Even though the contact was to the body and not the head, it is still targeting. The player was ejected and the offense got another attempt at the two point conversion. However, because the game was stopped for an injury to the quarterback, he must remain sidelined for at least one play. As a result, the backup came in for the next attempt.
  • The quarterback was dragged down by the nameplate of his jersey and sacked. Per the rules, a horse-collar tackle is when the defender grabs the inside of the back or side collar and drags down the ball carrier. Shaw described however that these rules do not apply to a potential passer who is inside the tackle box. This rule may be revisited in the next rules cycle, but as it stands, this play was not a foul.
  • On a 4th down punt, the receiving team recovers the ball on once bounce. The moment he catches the ball, he is hit by a member of the kicking team in the head. Even though the kicking team member did not lead with the crown of his helmet, he made forcible head contact to someone recovering a punt. A player recovering or catching a kick is by rule deemed defenseless, so the committing player was flagged for targeting and disqualified.
  • The returner on a punt caught the kick and started to advance the ball. After running into his own teammate, the ball was knocked loose, and the kicking team scooped and scored. Replay was looking to see whether this ball was muffed or fumbled. If the ball was muffed, the receiver never had control and the kicking team would not be able to advance the ball after recovering. If it was fumbled, the receiver had control and the kicking team would be allowed to advance the ball. It was determined that the receiver took 2 steps, tucked the ball away, and made a cut to the left. This was deemed control and a fumble, so the touchdown was confirmed.

Josh Cohn is a college student at Rochester Institute of Technology studying software engineering and creative writing. As a child, Josh would often officiate games between his friends and classmates during recess.