Alabama head coach Nick Saban is not one to ever shy away from letting his players know when they make a mistake. However, he will also defend his players when he knows they've done no wrong in his eyes.
In last weekend's Alabama-Texas A&M game, the Crimson Tide's Mack Wilson leveled Speedy Noil in the first quarter on a kick return. The play had the Twittersphere calling for targeting and Wilson to be ejected. No call was made on the field, nor was a review called for.
“It was a great hit,” Saban told Michael Casagrande of AL.com. “I know some people made something about the fact that it was targeting. But it was not an unprotected player. The guy is running with the ball.”
Under the NCAA's targeting rule, a player is only deemed defenseless when he has not had the time to protect himself, or hasn't yet become a ball-carrier.
However, there is a second part to the targeting rule, separate from the first.
Where Rule 9-1-4 details hits to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with either the helmet, forearm, fist, elbow, or shoulder, Rule 9-1-3 states: "No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul."
Wilson may have been clean on Rule 9-1-4, but he is in direct violation of Rule 9-1-3 as the crown of his helmet directly hits Noil in the head.
“We always tell our players that we want you to lower your target and see what you hit,” Saban said, “even when you tackle so we don’t get into those situations but that wasn’t a foul because it wasn’t an unprotected player.”
Noil may have been "protected," but Wilson should have been ejected and the Crimson Tide flagged for a 15-yard penalty for leading with the crown of his helmet.
Still, it may have only prolonged the inevitable: an Alabama easy victory.
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