“I didn’t even know. I was totally caught off guard. What are they reviewing? No idea,” Tom Allen said.
No one on the Indiana sideline knew what was coming.
But after the news was delivered from the review booth, the Hoosiers never really recovered.
Indiana had just stopped Cincinnati for a sixth straight drive of five plays or fewer. It was difficult to argue with Allen’s assessment of his team’s performance to that point, with 3:59 left in the first half and Indiana leading 14-0.
“They (Cincinnati’s offense) were struggling, we were making it very difficult. They couldn’t run the football, they were struggling on third downs. It was very lopsided, they had one first down with four minutes to go in the half,” Allen said.
Central to that defensive effort was senior All-American linebacker Micah McFadden, who had forced a fumble in the game and had pressure on the quarterback on the play that turned the tide.
With Cincinnati facing third-and-10 at its own 25 yard line, Indiana edge rusher Jaren Handy got to quarterback Desmond Ridder as he was throwing, forcing an errant pass as he was hit. After the apparent incompletion, the word from the lead official was the play was being reviewed to confirm it was an incomplete pass rather than a fumble.
Arriving at the quarterback just after Handy was McFadden, who appeared to be putting his hands up to deflect the pass when he was pushed into Ridder. The Bearcat quarterback was also pushed towards McFadden by Handy. The result of the bang-bang sequence was clear — McFadden made high contact with the quarterback in an apparent launching fashion.
No foul was called on McFadden on the field, as the Hoosier defense went to the sideline and celebrated another dominant drive.
Much to their shock, that defense was told to return to the field just moments later, sans McFadden, as the lead official announced a targeting foul stemming from the hit on Ridder.
Indiana LB Micah McFadden has been ejected for targeting.
👍 or 👎 ?pic.twitter.com/sNb5o9Db5S
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2021
There is little doubt that the sequence involved a helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless player, but was targeting the right call under the circumstances?
Allen cited the moment as a major turning point in his post-game remarks on Saturday, but he restrained from questioning the call until he had a chance to examine what happened more carefully.
There was no restraint on Monday.
“I did review it, and I totally disagree with the call, and it’s unfortunate,” Allen said. “We’ve turned it in, still going through the process of that evaluation.”
Allen is highly unlikely to get any kind of satisfactory outcome as a result of that review, presumably by Big Ten or NCAA officials. Certainly nothing will change the outcome of Cincinnati’s 38-24 win, after the Bearcats scored all of their points and gained 82 percent of their yards in the final 34 minutes of the contest beginning with the moment McFadden was ejected.
If anything comes from the review of the decision to eject McFadden, it is more likely to be that it was just the latest example of a controversial college football rule that needs to be modified. Allen believes a consensus is growing among coaches in terms of how best to go about the tweaks.
“I’m all about player safety. That’s the focus and it should be,” Allen said. “But there’s a lot of agreement (among coaches) that the rule right now needs to be evaluated. The ejection for something like that is not what it needs to be. If they want to do targeting-1 and targeting-2, kind of like the basketball with flagrant fouls, just me giving my two cents here, that’s what needs to be done, and it needs to be done soon.”
Allen’s idea is that a flagrant-1 call would result in a penalty but not an ejection. Such a rule likely would have kept McFadden on the field on Saturday.
“The bottom line is yes, they need to evaluate the way it is implemented with regard to the ejection piece,” Allen said. “I just don’t think it’s fair to the kid, to the teams to have a guy ejected for something like that. I think that will be looked at. Common sense says that it should be. And I hope that’s the case.”
That won’t change the disappointing 1-2 start to Indiana’s season, and it doesn’t address why the Hoosiers seemingly couldn’t recover once they lost McFadden. For that latter aspect, Allen acknowledged McFadden’s importance to the defense.
“It was almost like there was an emotional blow with losing Micah. I don’t want to see it be to that extreme, because he is just one player, but it definitely effected us,” Allen said. … “He obviously does a great job for us and he’s very disruptive, and he’s the heart and soul of our defense.”
Like the targeting rule itself, something had to change on Saturday when McFadden was ejected.
But it didn’t happen.
“A guy like that goes down, somebody else has to step up and make a play,” Allen said.
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