Stanford Quarterback K.J. Costello Knocked Out of Game on Missed Targeting Call

Just over two weeks ago, an NCAA director emailed various Division I football commissioners and conference administrators with an instructional video regarding how instant replay would be used this season in officiating targeting penalties.

The mass email was requested by the College Football Officiating, LLC Board of Managers, and the board requested that it be distributed to each conference’s media contacts.

In the video that was linked in the email, Dean Blandino, the CFO National Director of Instant Replay and a Fox rules analyst, explains that the hit in question must be against a player in a defenseless posture and that there must be an “indicator” of targeting, such as a player launching with forcible contact towards the opponent’s head/neck or with the crown of his helmet, or leading with his helmet, shoulder or arm to attack with forcible contact.

Blandino explains in the video that the replay official must be able to confirm with “clear and obvious evidence” the elements of targeting. The video then shows examples of plays from last season that are clear targeting penalties.

The email from the NCAA concluded with, “The point of this effort it to educate the media and fans not only to the rules, but to the rationale and intent of these policies.”

That brings us to Saturday, when Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello was knocked out of the Cardinal’s game against Northwestern late in the first half on a hit by Northwestern’s Earnest Brown IV.

The hit is shown below.

Costello, having clearly initiated his slide to give himself up, was in a defenseless posture.

Brown launched with forcible contact towards Costello’s head and he led that forcible contact with his arm.

Both elements are indicators of targeting.

But Brown was not called for targeting and he wasn’t ejected. A personal foul was called on the play.

Costello laid on the field, clearly shaken up, as he was attended to by Stanford’s training staff.

It’s not like the ball was snapped on the next play just seconds later, preventing the officials from making the targeting call or going to the replay official to confirm the call.

There was more than enough time available to properly officiate the play.

Costello was eventually able to walk off the field under his own power but he didn’t return to the game, leaving backup Davis Mills to play in the second half of Stanford’s 17-7 win.

Costello was 16-of-20 for 152 yards and a touchdown in the game and the Cardinal’s offense didn’t score in the second half.

The irony is that Fox broadcast the game, which meant that Blandino, whose informative video on targeting was blasted out in a Division I-wide email just over two weeks ago, was asked for his thoughts on the play and the lack of a targeting penalty on the field. He had no explanation for why it was missed.

If anything, the hit looked like it belonged in Blandino’s instructional video – a play that clearly displayed every element of targeting that could be quickly confirmed by the replay official.

The stature of the player shouldn’t matter whether officials get calls right or not because they should strive to get every call right, especially those that appear blatant and those regarding hits that put the health and safety of players at risk.

But it’s even more unfortunate for the officiating crew to make such a blunder – one involving one of the best quarterbacks in the country – just weeks after the NCAA and the College Football Officiating, LLC Board of Managers made a point to let the country know the emphasis video replay would have on targeting.

As Costello walked off the field after his injury, a hot mic picked up audio of him shouting a few expletives regarding the hit and the lack of a targeting penalty.

Given the extra layers of officiating available on targeting calls via video replay, it’s hard to blame him.

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