Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly found much glee in his team’s dominant 38-18 victory at Michigan State last Saturday night, but revisiting one play there made him more visibly upset than usual during his Tuesday meeting with the media.
While scrambling for positive yardage on a play in the first quarter, Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush was tackled cleanly by linebacker Joe Bachie. Then, while lying face down toward the turf, Wimbush was speared in the back and the helmet by Sam linebacker Chris Frey, who had left his feet and dove into the play.
Despite members of the ACC officiating crew looking right at the contact, no flag was thrown for what Kelly termed an egregious targeting incident. No review also was taken in the replay booth.
The usual protocol in such situations from the Notre Dame coaching staff is to put together a tape and send it to the league’s office with a complaint, but all done in private. However, on this specific play Kelly shared his annoyance publicly, in addition to filing the complaint with the league office.
“It's extremely frustrating as a head coach in this profession that you see … where I really have a hard time with this whole targeting rule in itself is that young men don't get many opportunities to play this game,” Kelly said.
“I was watching a game on the way back on the bus, and there was a young man thrown out of the game trying to make a tackle — and then we have this instance when this young man was not trying to make a tackle.
“…We can't seem to get that right — and we have a replay official that is supposed to be looking for that. That is extremely frustrating when somebody has to be thrown out of a game trying to make a tackle; somebody is still in the game, and he's not trying to make a tackle.”
The dismay from Kelly goes back to at least the 2016 opener at Texas when Notre Dame senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. sustained a concussion in the end zone on another helmet-to-helmet contact play — also with no penalty — helping lead Hunter to eventually choose baseball over football as a potential future pro sport.
That frustration was exacerbated several weeks later in a Notre Dame game against Syracuse when then Irish freshman safety Devin Studstill was ejected from the contest after a booth review judged his hit on a sliding quarterback Eric Dungy to be targeting.
“He was definitely not targeting somebody,” Kelly said of that hit after the victory against the Orange. “I just don’t understand the rule.”
The complaint sent into the Big XII office by Notre Dame last year after the Texas game eventually resulted in some action.
“There were repercussions for that Big XII replay crew — which was double secret until later in the year, obviously,” Kelly said. "It just needs to be fixed. It's right now not in a very good place.
"I don't know what, if any, repercussions would be relative to the on-field crew for the ACC or for the Big Ten replay crew, which was supposed to be monitoring that situation. But it was egregious, and there's no other way to look at that kind of hit. That has no place in the game.
“Tackling where somebody lowers their head as you're trying to make a tackle and there's no intention there to target, that's part of the game. We just seem to, can't get that right, and it's extremely frustrating."