SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly talked to Stephon Tuitt at halftime of Notre Dame's 28-21 loss to Pitt on Saturday after the defensive end was ejected for targeting Pitt quarterback Tom Savage. The ejection was controversial, with Tuitt making helmet-to-helmet contact with Savage, though there didn't appear to be any malicious intent in his hit.
"I think he was confused, quite frankly," Kelly said.
The ejection dearly cost a Notre Dame defense already thin on depth up front due to a string of injuries. From a bigger-picture standpoint, though, Kelly talked at length Tuesday about what has to be done to fix the rule so plays like the one Tuitt made won't result in an ejection.
"When a 320-pound inside player is running from the hash to the numbers at full speed and try to make a play, and he gets thrown out of the game, I don't think that's what the rule is intended for," Kelly said. "Clearly we're going to have to look at the rule in greater detail after the season because we don't wanna take that out of the game, we don't wanna take that effort out of the game."
Irish nose guard Louis Nix saw the same thing, and didn't think there was much else Tuitt could've done differently on the play.
"He went out there and played hard football and at that point, he just didn't want to give up a first down," Nix said. "If that would've been a situation where it would've been a touchdown, I would've wanted him to do the same thing. I didn't think he targeted the guy at all. He had the ball, so what else would you want him to do.
"I feel like if he would've tried to wrap up, put his head down, it would've been the same outcome."
Another problem Kelly has with targeting enforcement is that it's not consistent across college football — interpretation of the rule differs from conference to conference. In Saturday's case, it was a letter of the law penalty, with helmet-to-helmet contact resulting in an ejection.
"One of the things that we've tried so hard to rectify in officiating is to be more universal in our interpretations," Kelly said. "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 cant deal with it until the end of the year."
Kelly was peppered with questions about Tuitt's ejection Tuesday, and eventually the only response he could muster was shaking his head. He hopes for change, and hopes he's included in discussions on how to improve the rule.
"I'm for player safety, I'm for making sure that in this game of football that we do everything to protect the integrity of the game," Kelly said. "We don't have it right yet, we need to get it right, hopefully we'll be able to get it right."