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November 13, 2013

Tuitt ejection lingers for Irish

Brian Kelly doesn’t get caught speechless often.

Notre Dame’s head coach did Tuesday on the topic of not just Stephon Tuitt’s ejection for targeting last weekend at Pittsburgh, but what should be done about a controversial rule that’s simmered throughout college football and boiled over for the Irish program.

Notre Dame lost Tuitt on the first play of the second quarter at Heinz Field when he made helmet-to-helmet contact with Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage. The hit drew a flag from the ACC officiating crew for targeting and an ejection, which was upheld after review.

With Tuitt in the lineup the Irish allowed 3.7 yards per play and zero points. Without him, Notre Dame allowed 4.9 yards per play and four touchdowns. He played just 15 snaps in the game and had averaged more than 60 this season, leading the defensive line in all previous nine games.

“We have a problem. We all recognize that,” Kelly said. “It’s a real shame that a young man misses a game. I think we all recognize that it has to be dealt with, but we can’t deal with it until the end of the year.”
Kelly said he wanted to be part of the solution, even if that’s at a distance. Notre Dame wants to put some representation from the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on the rules committee in an effort to alter a rule that’s also seen outside linebacker Ben Councell ejected in the second half against Oklahoma, which meant he couldn’t play in the first half against Arizona State.

Because Tuitt was ejected in the first half against Pittsburgh, he’ll be eligible to play from the opening kickoff against BYU following the Irish bye week.

“That play, I watched it on film and I just don’t know,” said linebacker Dan Fox. “I understand the rule and I understand the interpretation of the rule. I understand protecting defenseless players. I totally understand. But that’s a situation, I don’t … I understand he has to maybe wrap him up, but that was a difficult situation.”

Kelly spent a large portion of his bye week press conference on Tuitt’s ejection, which forced the junior to leave the field and remain in the locker room for the rest of the game. Kelly said he spoke with the junior at halftime and Tuitt was confused by his disqualification.

When pressed if changes to the rule should include not forcing players to leave the field entirely, Kelly went silent. He didn’t want to speculate about officials reviewing ejections after the game either, opposed to making a final decision immediately after the play.

“Guys, look, you’re talking to someone who’s had two guys thrown out of games this year. You know where I fall on this one,” Kelly said. “I am for player safety. I am for making sure that in this game of football that we do everything to protect the integrity of the game. We don’t have it right yet. We need to get it right. Hopefully we’ll be able to get it right.”

For Kelly, that might start with taking away interpretation of the rules from the officials. While the ACC came out in support of its officiating crew and the ejection, Kelly would like to see less subjectivity in the penalty.
“It’s hard for me to really get into the minds,” Kelly said. “When you watch college football, one of the biggest problems we have is that it’s being interpreted differently. One of the things we’ve tried so hard to rectify in officiating is to be more universal in our interpretations. Now we’ve got one out there that’s looked at differently by conference.

“Targeting as we all know it is somebody dialing in, intentionally trying to injure somebody and we clearly know that wasn’t the case in that instance.

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