November 10, 2017 11:01:21 AM
STARKVILLE -- Dan Mullen and Todd Grantham agree: when Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram sacked UMass quarterback Ross Comis, he made helmet-to-helmet contact and the targeting call that followed was justified. The call was confirmed in a matter of seconds -- so quickly official word came before the television broadcast could show a replay of the hit.
The only thing they don't like is the suspension that comes with it -- and not just because Abram's absence hurts the No. 18 MSU (7-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference, No. 16 College Football Playoff) defense.
MSU's head football coach and defensive coordinator both sounded off on the idea of reconsidering the automatic suspension that comes with a confirmed targeting call. It comes on the heels of Abram's suspension causing him to miss the first half of MSU's game against No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC, No. 2 CFP) 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at Davis Wade Stadium.
"I think the thing that's happened is, No. 1, the intent of the rule was to take malicious plays out of the game, which I think the rule has done that. I think what's happened is because guys are so fast and because guys are adjusting to the ball, there are some quick decisions that are made for a tackler," Grantham said. "They're not really intended to be malicious, but it's targeting, so I think as we move forward, we should continue to have the rule that we have but look at the ramifications of the rule; in other words, what is the penalty?
"The intent is to take the malicious plays out of the game, which we've done, but I'm not sure the intent was to hurt guys and suspend guys for four quarters relative to making a quick decision like that."
Mullen and Grantham both thought Abram had no malicious intent in his hit; replay made it look as if Comis crouched as Abram came that brought his head down into the path of Abram's helmet. Therein lies Grantham's case for the quick nature of the game and potentially putting rules in place to prevent athletes for being punished by that.
College football has already modified its targeting rule once. The first edition of the rule assessed a 15-yard penalty even if video review overturned the targeting call on the field. That part of the rule lasted one year; now, when a targeting call is overturned, the defense no longer takes the 15-yard penalty.
Other coaches in the conference look forward to initiating the conversation Grantham alluded to in the offseason.
"We'll talk about it after the season. I think every coach who has had a kid ejected on a bang-bang play is kind of thinking the same thing," Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said.
Creating a rule to the effect that Grantham suggested is not going to be an easy task: judging malicious intent is a subjective task that by nature can't be defined, and subjective tasks tend to not play well within rule books. Still, Mason thinks it's possible.
"I think that's why you have instant replay," Mason said. "You can see it in real time, you can slow it and down two, three, four times to see what was the real intent and the real opportunity. I'm sure it's going to be something that's brought up and talked about as we get into conference meetings."
For now, Grantham continues to aggressively coach his players to stay within his so-called strike zone, in between the ball carrier's shoulders and thighs. MSU defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said he has that strike zone in his mind while he's making a tackle.
"Don't hit with your helmet, it's a simple rule," he said.
Grantham added, "That's what you're going to work at, but it's no different from anything else: we have really good athletes moving fast and things are going to happen. We have to continue coaching them."
In the mean time, MSU has no way of changing the fact that Abram cannot play in the first half. Grantham is well prepared to live without him.
"We have other players," Grantham said. "We'll play the guys that have been practicing there all year. It's not that big a deal.
"We have our packages. If a guy's down for a play, somebody else comes in. It won't affect us that way."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson
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