By Will Vaandervort.
A week after Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony was ejected from the Tigers’ game against South Carolina there is still no closure on whether the targeting foul he was charged with on South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson was indeed the correct call.
After reaching out to the SEC earlier this week, the conference told The Clemson Insider on Saturday morning, “We do not comment on officiating.”
“We will on occasion clarify a rule, however the questions you have posed are not ones on which we would issue a comment,” SEC Associate Commissioner Herb Vincent wrote in an email.
TCI asked the SEC, who was in charge of the in-game-officials, if it agreed with referee Matt Austin’s call with 2:37 left to play in the third quarter when Thompson rolled to his left on a third-and-nine play from the Clemson 28 and threw the ball out of bounds just before being pushed by Anthony.
Austin flagged Clemson’s middle linebacker for roughing the passer with targeting.
“Remember the definition is forcible contact up to the head and neck area,” ESPN color analyst Kelly Stouffer said during the broadcast. “And you could see the head butt. I don’t know if that is classified as forcible contact and that is exactly what the replay booth will be taking advantage of.”
But the replay booth, which is an ACC crew, only took 45 seconds to agree with Austin and confirmed his call. Anthony was disqualified from the game and will now be forced to sit out the first half of the Tigers’ bowl game.
“Anthony did not launch himself,” Stouffer said. “I think that was ticky-tack. There was some contact, but I don’t think that was forcible. I don’t think it meets that definition.”
TCI also reached out to Doug Rhoads, who is in charge of ACC Officials, by email and asked him to comment on his crew’s decision not to overturn Austin’s call. TCI has not heard back from Rhoads or from the ACC at this time.
The targeting rule was amended this past off-season to say that “No player should target and make forcible contact.”
On the sideline, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was fussing with the officials and pointing to the head of his crown as to signal that Anthony did not make forcible contact with Thompson’s helmet.
This is the second time a Clemson player has been disqualified by what appears to be a questionable interpretation of the rule. Safety Robert Smith was disqualified from the Wake Forest game when he tried to dislodge the ball from Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne. Smith hit the Demon Deacon in the chest area and moments after the play an official ruled he had targeted Serigne with the crown of his helmet.
Replays during the ESPN broadcast clearly showed Smith hitting Serigne in the chest with his shoulder and his helmet is to the side. However, replay officials decided the ruling on the field stood because there was not sufficient evidence on video replay to overturn the ruling on the field.
Smith, also a senior starter, missed the first two quarters of the Georgia Tech game. Rhoads and Rogers Redding, the National Coordinator of Football Officials, supported the call that led to Smith’s ejection.
Swinney has not had the opportunity to comment on Anthony’s ejection and suspension just yet, but when Smith was suspended he did have this to say.
“That just speaks to the subjectivity that we deal with in regards to this rule. I think when they put it in, we all know what they were trying to eliminate from the game. The obvious cheap shot, that’s what everybody wants out of the game. You want to protect the defenseless player,” Swinney said. “You want to protect the guy who is making the hit and not allow those launching and leading with the crown of the helmet type of plays. But in no way form or fashion do I think the intent of the rule was meant from what I saw extensively with what Robert Smith did.”
And the rule’s intent is not to punish Anthony or any defensive player the way it has now done.
“We spend a lot of time talking about this as coaches,” Swinney said. “I mean a lot of time. Again, at some point, you have to stand up for the defensive guys.”