Powell broke through the line of scrimmage to stop Michigan State running back Nate Carter for a loss. It was a big play that got Rutgers the ball back. Or so Powell thought. And anyone watching live for that matter.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 14, 2023
As Rutgers celebrated getting the ball back, officials were spurred to review the play for a potential targeting foul. And sure enough, Powell got flagged for targeting and ejected from the game while Michigan State got a free first down. But in what many Rutgers fans may feel is a "ball don't lie" moment, the Spartans fumbled the ball on the very next play.
The uneven application of the targeting rule in college football can be controversial. The rule states that “no player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless player or contact an opponent with the crown of their helmet.”
In this case, officials determined that the contact the top of Powell’s helmet made with Carter’s facemask was enough for an ejection. The hit sure doesn’t look like targeting live, but if you slow it down enough, you can see how officials parsed the play enough to make their ruling.
But that’s also the problem with the way the targeting rule is enforced. We all understand that the rule is in place to try to make football safer. But it’s also true to note that hits like Powell made against Carter happen very frequently during football games and are not flagged. Some more judiciousness from officiating crews — especially on big plays like this — is needed for the sake of consistency.