NORMAN — Through three weeks, college football's new targeting enforcements appear to be accomplishing their designed goals.
Penalties for headhunting have dipped slightly below last year's levels through the first few weeks of the season.
In the offseason, the NCAA added an ejection to go along with the 15-yard personal foul penalty for targeting, trying to cut down on the kinds of hits that lead to traumatic brain injuries.
While the ejection is reviewable, the penalty yardage is not.
With the ejections, the NCAA appears to be accomplishing its goal of limiting shots to the head, but some want the rule tweaked to allow the penalty to be overturned as well.
Last season, targeting — a rule designed to punish defenders for striking defenseless players in the head or neck — was called about once every eight games.
In the season's first week, 10 targeting penalties were called in 75 games at college football's highest level — slightly above last year's rate.
In subsequent weeks, though, the number of targeting penalties have dipped below last year's rate — four in the second week, two that weren't overturned in the third week.
As of Saturday evening, only Florida's Brian Poole was flagged and ejected for targeting in Week 4.
Around a third of the targeting penalties that have been called have been subsequently overturned on replay.
Oklahoma got caught up in it a week ago against Tulsa when safety Gabe Lynn was initially ejected for a hit on Trey Watts.
Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said after the game that Lynn did exactly as he was taught.
Lynn's ejection was overturned but the penalty stood, leading to a Tulsa touchdown two plays later.
That score didn't matter much, but the penalty has the potential to be much more harmful when a team loses a key player or the penalty leads to a score at a crucial time.
In the season's first week, California defensive lineman Chris McCain was called for targeting early in the fourth quarter of a tied game against Northwestern.
McCain, one of Cal's most disruptive defenders, was ejected, and the Wildcats went on to kick a field goal on that drive and won 44-30.
McCain's ejection was overturned only after the game, when the Pac-12 said there had been a failure in the replay process and that McCain's hit had not been reviewed.
In the Big 12, Texas' Adrian Phillips had his targeting ejection overturned last week against Ole Miss. The penalty, though, helped the Rebels kick a field goal just before half to cut the Longhorns' lead to 23-17. Ole Miss went on to win 44-34.
“If we're going to take our time to delay the game and go up and make sure it's not targeting, why in the world can't you say, in fact, he hit him with his shoulder and it's (not) even a penalty?” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “I think that's where it needs to change.”
Brown isn't the only one calling for a change that would allow the penalty to be overturned. Mike Stoops and Alabama coach Nick Saban also called for a rules change.
Oklahoma State hasn't been affected by targeting yet, though there was a flag thrown for targeting in the Cowboys' season opener against Mississippi State. The flag, though, was picked up after an on-field conference between officials, so there was no review needed.
Oklahoma State coaches and players were not available for comment this week.
Before the season, Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson said the review rules on targeting were a compromise after plans initially called for neither the ejection or the penalty to be reviewed.
Anderson said of 17 targeting calls made in the Big 12 in 2012, five would've been overturned, though the “philosophy” of the rule was upheld by each call.
“That's what we have relative to this rule is a philosophy that the rules committee and the NCAA wants officials to apply,” Anderson said.
After the first week, National Coordinator of Officials Rogers Redding said he noticed a difference in the way defenders approached big-hit situations, especially defensive backs dealing out jarring hits to wide receivers coming over the middle.
“Last year, he might have lit (the receiver) up,” Redding told USA Today. “You could see a little breakdown, lowering the target.”
Oklahoma linebacker Frank Shannon said the new rule is constantly on his mind.
“That's all I think about — don't hit them with my head,” Shannon said of his thoughts while running toward a player in open space.