Notre Dame is no stranger to questionable targeting penalties on road games that proved costly and Saturday night was another instance following Elijah Shumate’s 4th quarter targeting penalty. The senior safety’s penalty nearly cost the Irish last night and will put them in a tough situation heading into next week’s trip to Pittsburgh.
Because Shumate was flagged for targeting in the second half, he must sit out the entire first half against Pittsburgh this coming weekend. If Notre Dame had more depth at the safety position that wouldn’t be too big of a concern, but injuries have left the Irish depleted at the position which was clearly evident immediately following Shumate’s ejection.
Before really getting into the impact of Shumate’s penalty though, let’s discuss the penalty itself. On 3rd and goal PJ Walker fired a pass over the middle to Romond Deloatch towards the back of the endzone. Deloatch couldn’t handle the pass and was then immediately met by Shumate who it appeared was leading with his shoulder, but as Deloatch fell to the ground there was some helmet to helmet contact.
Here’s play in question.
By the letter of the rule, there should have been a penalty for helmet to helmet contact since it did occur, but for no reason should targeting have been called on the field. How on earth replay officials from the American Athletic Conference confirmed the penalty in record time is beyond me as well. It was questionable at best and terrible at worst. Shumate wasn’t leading with his helmet, it wasn’t an overly malicious hit, and the helmet to helmet contact occurred due to gravity and Deloatch falling to the ground.
Blame Isaac Newton. Not Elijah Shumate.
Brian Kelly seemed to agree after the game. “They said that it was targeting, which targeting to me is when you’re obviously trying to obviously take somebody out. I thought he led with his shoulder but I’d have to watch it again,” said Kelly after the game.
Expect Kelly to have more thoughts on Shumate’s penalty at his Sunday presser.
All that said, the penalty turned out to be costly – just as Stephon Tuitt’s questionable targeting penalty on the road against Pitt in 2013. Three plays later Jahad Thomas took a pitch from Walker. Shumate’s replacement, Nicky Baratti appeared to have Thomas lined up but a pretty simple cut by Thomas sent Baratti flying by and Thomas walked into the endzone. It’s tough to blame Baratti for the missed tackle. The oft-injured safety has rarely played this year after there were questions if he even would play this year following his multiple shoulder injuries.
There’s that injuries word again. Notre Dame is still without 5th year transfer Avery Sebastian since week one and his return this season sounds highly questionable. Drue Tranquil was also lost for the season after his freak ACL injury suffered celebrating a big pass breakup against Georgia Tech in week 3. Those injuries have left Notre Dame with just three healthy safeties most weekends.
Unless Notre Dame appeals Shumate’s penalty and wins, the Irish will be without his services for the first half of the Pitt game per NCAA rules. Brian Vangorder could get a little creative in replacing Shumate with Matthias Farley and inserting freshman Nick Coleman or sophomore Nick Watkins in the slot, but neither has played much this year. Keivarae Russell could also play in the slot since he cross trained their over the summer to make things easier for Coleman or Watkins should they go that route. They could also just roll with Baratti against the run oriented Panthers as well.
Regardless of what Vangorder and Kelly decide to do, the fact remains that this latest targeting penalty nearly proved deadly to Notre Dame’s playoff hopes. The penalty not only gave Temple new life on a drive that stalled, but immediately following the penalty his replacement missed a tackle that resulted in a game tying score. Throw in Shumate’s suspension for the first half next week and one judgement call from a referee can have a lasting impact on Notre Dame.
Ironically, Pittsburgh was the last location of a questionable targeting call against the Irish when Tuitt was ejected in 2013 for a hit on Pitt quarterback Tom Savage where again the offensive player’s motion was the only reason helmet to helmet contact occurred. That penalty gave the Panthers new life that night and they went on to upset the Irish. Luckily for Notre Dame that was not the case this time around as they rallied to escape Pennsylvania with the victory. Next week brings another challenge because of a single judgement call though.