Tick Talk: It’s fair to say this is a ‘hard-hitting’ column about the state of football

By Mark “Ticky” Smith
Enchantment Sports
Editor in Chief

How about a little analysis regarding football, penalties, hitting and hypocrisy?

On Sunday, the media were up in arms when Green Bay’s Clay Matthews tackled Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins in the final minutes with the Packers leading 29-21. Cousins was intercepted on the play, which would have locked away the win, but Matthews was called for roughing the passer.

The penalty kept the Vikings’ drive alive. It ended with a TD and 2-pointer to tie game – and that’s how it eventually ended after numerous twists and turns in overtime.

I agree it was an awful call.

(Click here for video.)

Sportscasters and sportswriters, as usual, chirped out all the cliches about how football is taking the contact out of the game.

Ah, the hypocrisy.

Just one day earlier, the sports media were drooling all over themselves about a wild play in the North Texas-Arkansas college game. Arkansas was trailing 7-0 and punted in the first quarter. North Texas returner Keegan Brewer caught it, barely flinching, then stood like a statue as if it was a fair catch. Arkansas’ Grant Morgan had been barreling down at Brewer, but pulled up as Brewer stood there.

Brewer remained standing as the Razorbacks started trotting off the field. Brewer, however, had not signaled a fair catch. It was even reported that Morgan asked Brewer why the whistle hadn’t blown, but Brewer stood silently.

Then Brewer took off, and didn’t stop until reaching the end zone on a 90-yard return, described by the team as the “Fake Fair Catch.”

(Click here for video.)

It was great video. It was wild. It was ESPN SportsCenter’s No. 9 Play of the Day.
It was also an ingenious play – but one that could only work because of the controversy about what’s a legal hit, what’s a penalty, what’s enough to get a player tossed, etc.

Fake fair catch II
North Texas punt returner Keegan Brewer used this “fake fair catch” to score a 90-yard TD against Arkansas.

Seriously, what could Morgan have done (see ASU/SDSU below)?

Yet, I haven’t heard one sportscaster or seen one web account pointing out what would have happened to Morgan, had he drilled Brewer.

If Morgan had destroyed Brewer – even with a legal tackle – he still likely would have been penalized, tossed from the game and maybe the season. Brewer might have been out even longer with an injury. And there is no doubt the cliche-mongers would have destroyed Morgan on highlight clips.El Pintojpg

Speaking of rules, one that needs some tinkering in the college game is pass interference being just 15 yards.

If it’s down to the final seconds and a receiver is about to catch a long bomb, the defender might just as well hammer the open man. The penalty is a 15-yard mark off from the line of scrimmage. The defense gives up, basically, nothing as opposed to a possible touchdown.

Then there is this:
On Saturday, Arizona State trailed San Diego State 28-21 and had the ball at midfield with just seconds left and facing fourth down.

Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins heaved it, and hit receiver Frank Darby for an apparent 48-yard play to the SDSU 2 with 6 seconds left.

But as Darby hauled in the pass, the Aztecs’ Trenton Thompson put a cheap and devastating shot to Darby’s face, sending the receiver sprawling backward to the ground. Flags flew and Thompson was whistled for targeting.

Trenton Thompson hit
San Diego State’s Trenton Thompson gets called for targeting against ASU’s Frank Darby. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Then came the automatic official review of targeting. The targeting was a no-brainer, and Thompson was ejected for the deplorable hit.

However, the review also showed something else. As Darby flew backward, the ball moved along his hip. As his back hit the ground, the point of the football also nudged the turf.

Incomplete pass.

You can guess the reaction from ASU coach Herm Edwards and everyone not rooting for the Aztecs.

(Click here for video.)

The 15-yard targeting penalty was marked to the SDSU 35. One harmless Hail Mary later, and the cheapest hit of the year had just saved the Aztec upset.

I haven’t seen if SDSU coach Rocky Long, the former Lobo head coach, made a statement about it.

College football better.

NCAA rules committee, your turn.

Mark Smith has been in New Mexico sports journalism for four decades and is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.

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