Turnt Off: Three Questions About the D.J. Swearinger Suspension

By SEC fiat, @JungleBoi_Swagg will be #TurntOff during Saturday's game against the Missouri Tigers.

Like many of you, I spent a great deal of the morning and early afternoon going through The Five Stages of Finding Out That D.J Swearinger Is Suspended For The Missouri Game:

  1. Denial
  2. Turnt
  3. Turnt All The Way Up
  4. Do you think we can get away with playing DJ anyway if he shaves his head and puts on a Jared Shaw mask?
  5. Whatever, Georgia is going to win the East anyway thanks to that easy schedule.

In case you've been living under a rock, here's a video of the hit:

Through all of the emotion and #FreeDJ hash tags and visions of CBS cutting to a dejected TJ Gurley and explaining that the touchdown pass that James Franklin just threw to TJ Moe might not have happened if All-SEC free safety DJ Swearinger hadn't been suspended, three questions have remained present in my mind.

1) Why isn't the rule applied consistently?

Certainly, one could understand officials noticing some but failing to notice other "targeting" penalties during high-speed SEC contests, but for Mike Slive to have access to replay angle upon replay angle and conclude that it is appropriate to suspend DJ Swearinger but not to suspend Andre Hal for this hit against Justice Cunningham is inscrutable, to put it politely. Before we go much further, it's worth pointing out just what rule it is we're arguing about. It's Rule 9-1-4 of the NCAA Football Rule Book, which reads:

No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow, or shoulder.

It's difficult to make a case, based on the video evidence and the letter of the law, that the suspension shouldn't be applied in both cases if any at all. Of course, the SEC attempted to do just that, releasing a statement that reads as follows:

On replay, although contact was made to the receiver's helmet, the primary contact by the Vanderbilt defender was to the shoulder area. The Vanderbilt defender never lowers his head and the contact is made with his facemask up looking at the South Carolina receiver. It was a foul because there was glancing contact to the receiver's helmet. In the UAB contest, based on video replays, the contact was initiated by a slight launch of the defender into the receiver and the primary contact was targeted directly into the receiver's facemask.

Oh boy. Where to start? First of all, I have no idea how the officials or SEC executives have any idea what DJ Swearinger or Andre Hal were "targeting." Did they ask them what part of the body they were trying to hit? I doubt it. But if we grant the officials and SEC executives the ability to read minds, then we need only establish that the defenders* initiated "contact to the head or neck area... with the helmet, forearm, elbow, or shoulder." It's clear that Hal initiated contact to Cunningham's helmet because, you know, the damn thing flew off. But even if the blow to the helmet did meet the definition of a blow that is merely "glancing," there are no mitigated punishments for glancing blows outlined in the NCAA rule book nor is there any mention of the positioning of the defender's facemask being a deciding factor in any punishment that might ensue.

I think the words "slight launch" are ludicrous enough that their absurdity requires no further analysis.

2) What could DJ have done differently?

This is where I have a hard time. Sure, the hit is pretty brutal. And, really, it looks more brutal every time I look at it. So I'm mostly asking this question out of ignorance of proper tackling technique. It's clear that DJ has no shot at making a play on the ball alone, so his primary objective here would presumably be to separate the receiver from the ball to force the incompletion, and he was, if nothing else, very effective in accomplishing that. Are there any coaching axioms that generally govern what a defender should do in this situation? After scrutinizing the replay, it looks like he probably could have gone in lower, but at a certain point that too would seem to compromise the health of the receiver and the defender, which leads me to my next question...

3) Can we realistically ask athletes to control their bodies with the level of precision that this rule apparently requires?

The NCAA rule is very specific about what body and/or equipment parts may not be used to make these kinds of tackles: helmets, forearms, elbows, and shoulders. It effectively excludes most of the body parts normally used for tackling, save biceps, thighs, and nostrils. I wouldn't mind if in, say, the Furman game, D.J. sarcastically attempts to make a tackle with his left calf muscle. The level of tackling accuracy that this rule demands almost makes you wonder if the coaching staff's response to this rule isn't something approximate to, "Eff it. You're going to get penalized sometimes, but just keep doing what you're doing." If this is indeed what is going on, then serious questions have to be raised about the efficacy of this rule in accomplishing its purported objective of increasing player safety.

That's all I've got for now. In the meantime, stay grinding. It's what D.J. would want.

*Do you notice how the SEC refuses to use the players' names? You know, the exact opposite of what you would do during a hostage negotiation. Coincidence? I THINK NOT!!!

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