Michael: Air Force loss proves officials need to modify how they call targeting

Justin Michael

Saturday night’s loss to Air Force was a bitter pill to swallow for Colorado State football fans. Nick Stevens was brilliant under center and had the team won, Nov. 12 would have been remembered as one of the better quarterback performances in school history. Unfortunately for the Rams, that was not the case and heartbreak will be fresh on the mind.

The loss to the Falcons cuts deep for a variety of reasons, including yet another questionable performance from the officiating crew. Before we dive into this, I would like to premise that the Rams cannot pin the loss solely on the officiating crew.

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When you give up 485 yards on the ground, the likelihood of winning any matchup is slim to none, but especially with a team like Air Force. The Falcons had a game plan and executed it to perfection.

That being said, even with the defensive woes, the Rams were in position to come away with a victory Saturday night and the blown no-call on the late hit on Stevens had a huge effect on the outcome.

Up three with just under 2:00 remaining in the first half, Stevens escaped the pocket and made a poor decision by trying to force the ball into tight coverage, resulting in an interception for the Academy. However, Stevens was subsequently blown up by No. 44 of the Falcon defense, which was initially ruled as targeting on the field.

The only issue? The play was clearly not targeting and should have been ruled as roughing the passer, but once the officials went to the review and realized that the initial ruling was incorrect, it was already too late. Roughing the passer is not a penalty that can be called from review, so the result of the play was an interception that stood, a quarterback that got lit up up a full two seconds after releasing the ball and a Falcons defense that got away with a cheap shot on Stevens.

Two plays later Air Force RB Tim McVey rushed the ball 15 yards into the end zone, giving the Falcons a four-point halftime lead. CSU would go on to lose the game by a field goal, the Rams eighth loss to their in-state rival in the past decade.

As stated before, most of the blame in this loss can be placed on the Rams themselves for not executing defensively and failing to stop the triple-option attack that Troy Calhoun seems to have perfected over the years. Air Force played a brilliant football game offensively, but the reality is their defense was just as suspect as the green and gold’s.

Would they still have won that game without the late score that resulted from the blown call? It is impossible to say with any certainty, but the Rams did outscore the Falcons 22-21 in the second half, so without that late first half touchdown, CSU likely wins this ballgame.

Missed calls and the human-element of officiating will likely always be somewhat of a factor, especially in a conference like the Mountain West. Yes, I went there, but if the officials are going to make mistakes and have replay at their disposal, then why not rule every late hit as a personal foul and then review if the hit should be classified as targeting. That way we can avoid what occurred Saturday night, where the hit did deserve to be called as a personal foul but does not necessarily deserve an ejection.

The concept of targeting was implemented to improve player safety and I applaud the NCAA for looking to better ensure the health of student-athletes, but the officials have absolutely no clue on how to effectively call the penalty. Every week, commentators and fans are left scratching their heads, trying to figure out what exactly constitutes as targeting versus a personal foul and the Ram faithful learned it the hard way Saturday night.

Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.

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