Utah was a beneficiary of a targeting call late in the first half in last week’s 21-17 win at Washington State.

Then early in the fourth quarter, the Utes were whistled for a costly targeting penalty themselves.

It goes both ways.

Utah running back Ja’Quinden Jackson was tackled on third-and-1 from the WSU 3-yard line for a 3-yard loss. However, the officials called targeting on the Cougars, giving the Utes new life. 

Utah capitalized on that by scoring a touchdown to take a 14-7 halftime lead. 

In the fourth quarter, Ute safety R.J. Hubert was called for targeting on a hard-hitting tackle. Utah was penalized for 15 yards and Hubert was ejected from the game.

As per NCAA rules, Hubert will also have to miss the first half of Saturday’s game against Arizona. The Utes appealed the decision but did not win the appeal. 

The NCAA rule book defines targeting as “leading with the helmet to make forcible above-the-shoulder contact with an opponent.”

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The NFL doesn’t have a targeting rule. Instead, the league uses a helmet call, a version of targeting, when a player lowers his head and uses the helmet to contact the player he is tackling. If that penalty is committed in the NFL, it comes with a 15-yard penalty with the possibility of ejection. 

Of course, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has a strong opinion about the targeting rule. 

“I disagree with it. I think the NFL has it right,” he said this week. “If you watch tape, there’s probably 100 targetings throughout the course of a game when guys are taking on blocks and it’s helmet-to-helmet all over the board. It’s kind of puzzling how they choose to ignore all the other ones and yet focus on the ones where the guy’s carrying the football. It’s all the same.”

Whittingham said the officials tend to focus on the more vicious hits in a game. 

“It’s frustrating. I think the NFL does the best job with it. But I don’t make the rules,” he said. “I just know that players’ safety is, of course, a concern. Football is a dangerous sport. There’s no way around it. I shouldn’t say dangerous, but it’s inherent (in the game).”

Just as what happened last Thursday, targeting calls can go both ways. 

“I think it all balances out in the end,” Whittingham said. “That’s always been my overriding philosophy on referees — never complain about them because they’re not perfect. In the final analysis, it’s pretty close to even over the course of X-amount of games or years.”


Utes on the air

Arizona (3-5, 1-4)

at No. 12 Utah (6-2, 4-1) 

Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT

Rice-Eccles Stadium

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: ESPN 700