Targeting ejection leaves Irish confused

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly's facial expression said it all.

Asked about Stephon Tuitt's ejection -- and not for the first or last time Tuesday -- the Notre Dame coach stood in bemusement trying to figure out why his defensive end was not even allowed to stay on the sideline for the rest of Saturday's game at Pitt after his second-quarter targeting penalty.

A follow-up question from another reporter about why Tuitt's penalty could not be for the next game, given the amount of reviewing, at least drew words out of Kelly. But the confusion from the Irish losing arguably their most talented player one play into the second quarter of an eventual loss had hardly subsided nearly 72 hours after the fact.

"Look, you're talking to somebody who's got two guys thrown out of games this year, so you know where I fall on this one," Kelly said. "I am for player safety. I am for making sure that in this game of football that we do everything to protect the integrity of the game.

"We don't have it right yet. We need to get it right. Hopefully we'll be able to get it right."

The ACC told the Chicago Tribune on Monday that coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads said the ejection of Tuitt -- who laid a seemingly unintentional helmet-to-helmet hit on Panthers quarterback Tom Savage during a scramble -- was warranted.

Kelly said that Tuitt was confused when the two spoke at halftime, though the 312-pounder will not miss any action Nov. 23 against BYU since the call came in the first half.

Notre Dame will continue to coach its players to be aggressive, Kelly said, though the staff never directs them to punish offensive players or lead with their helmets. He does not think the targeting rule was meant for plays like the one that cost Tuitt the final three quarters of Saturday's game.

"Clearly we're going to have to look at the rule in greater detail after the season because we don't want to take that out of the game," Kelly said. "We don't want to take that effort out of the game, we don't want to take guys selling out trying to make plays out of the game, so targeting as we all know it, is somebody dialing-in intentionally to try to injure somebody, and we clearly know that that wasn't the case in that instance. So we've got some work to do with the legislation and hopefully we'll be able to clean that up after the season."

The Irish had lost Ben Councell to the targeting call in the fourth quarter of a Sept. 28 loss to Oklahoma, which forced the linebacker to sit for the first half of the following week's game against Arizona State.

And, according to Irish Illustrated, the Irish lost more than a yard per play without Tuitt at Pitt, as it surrendered 3.7 yards per play with the junior in and 4.9 yards per play with him out.

"When you watch college football, one of the bigger problems that we have is that it's being interpreted differently, right?" Kelly said. "And one of the things that we've tried so hard to rectify in officiating is to be more universal in our interpretations. Now, we've got one out there that is looked at differently by conference. So we have a problem. We all recognize that. It's a real shame that a young man misses a game, and I think we all recognize it has to be dealt with, but we just can't deal with it until the end of the year."

Kelly said he hopes he can be among a group of reasonable people whose voices are heard on the matter this offseason, with intent being the key distinction that should be considered for clearer interpretation moving forward.

"I really didn't want him to get kicked out -- like the 15 yards, yeah, maybe, but going to the locker room, kicking him out of the game like he intentionally tried to kill a guy, I didn't like that," nose guard Louis Nix said. "But it's a rule, and we've got to stay by the rules and do better at tackling, I guess."