By: Will Burchfield
With player safety a growing concern in the sport of football, the rulebook has become increasingly stringent in regard to physical contact.
Hits that were once praised as aggressive are now condemned as violent. Tackles that used to be clean are now considered dirty.
After Michigan State’s Malik McDowell was ejected for targeting the quarterback in the Spartans’ loss to Indiana on Saturday, a call that later resulted in a half-game suspension, coach Mark Dantonio found himself questioning the nature of the sport.
“I don’t know how you play football anymore sometimes,” he said on Tuesday.
On the play, McDowell didn’t appear to do anything malicious. The defensive tackle barreled his way toward Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow, wrapping him up and driving him to the turf just after Lagow had released a pass.
Clean football play? Not so much.
Replays showed McDowell led with his head, striking Lagow in the chest with his helmet. And according to the NCAA rulebook, a hit is considered targeting if it involves “forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of his helmet.”
The NCAA reviewed the play and handed out the corresponding discipline, keeping McDowell out of action until the second half of Michigan State’s game against BYU this weekend.
“Well, I got explanations, we got explanations, but I can’t really talk about those things, guys,” Dantonio said. “What’s done is done. I can’t change it.”
And that’s where Dantonio would like to see the review system modified.
“There is no appeal process with this. So that’s a difficult situation to handle, but that’s the way it is. I’m just a small cog here.
“I think if you can go back and say, ‘Oh, that was a bad hit, an illegal hit,’ and put it on a guy without it being called in the game, then you should be able to do the reverse as well. But like I said, I’m just a voter.”
With Michigan State’s star defensive tackle condemned to the locker room for the start of Saturday’s game, Dantonio is counting on some lesser-known players to step up.
“(Offensive guard) Brandon Clemons will play on defense this week. I think that’s a for-sure. He’s a guy that’s got defensive reps and he’s played. (Defensive end) Austin Robertson will move back into defensive tackle some. So we’ve got guys who have the same amount of numbers at least and we’ll make it through the first half and then we’ll make adjustments after that,” Dantonio said.
From a scheme standpoint, though, the Spartans’ defense won’t look much different.
“I don’t think you all of a sudden restructure your whole defense. I don’t think you can do those type of things. You can’t make wholesale changes,” said Dantonio. “Certainly we’ll miss Malik, but there is nothing that I can do about that. Those decisions rest with other people and you know how it goes.”