BOZICH | Louisville's Burgess says not guilty on "horrible" ejection for targeting
Louisville's James Burgess said he was not guilty of targeting on the first play of the Music City Bowl. Todd Grantham said the call was "horrible." The Cards still won.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) – The first snap of the Music City Bowl was officially recorded as an incomplete pass from Texas A&M quarterback Jake Hubenak to receiver Damion Ratley.
Consider that an incomplete and eventually debatable description of an incomplete pass on Wednesday’s opening play.
As Ratley flashed from left end to the center of the field, he was chased by Louisville cornerback Shaq Wiggins. He was also met with thunderous authority by Louisville linebacker James Burgess.
In fact, he was met with such gusto that both Ratley and Wiggins went down and did not immediately return to their feet. They stayed down – and left the game.
With two guys down, the officials went to the replay monitor and ruled that Burgess was guilty of a targeting penalty. I’ve heard the foul defined in many ways, but it essentially means Burgess delivered a blow to Ratley’s head.
Reasonable people can – and did – disagree about the call as Burgess appeared to hit the receiver in the shoulder as well as the face. Burgess delivered much of the impact with his upper body, not his head. He did not appear to leave his feet.
It was the kind of targeting call that takes over Twitter, as fans work to adjudicate the situation. Most of the social media jurors that I saw voted that Burgess was falsely convicted in Louisville’s 27-21 victory over the Aggies.
But the final ruling was a personal foul for targeting, which carries an ejection.
And just like that, Burgess’s final game in his remarkable four-season career with Louisville was over.
One play for a guy who did not have a reputation as a head hunter or dirty football player.
U of L coach Bobby Petrino did not agree. Neither did U of L defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Nor did Burgess.
“I could have run through him,” Burgess said. “I didn’t leave my feet. I didn’t hit him with my head. I used my shoulder to his chest. That’s legal. But they made the call.
“I saw it (the replay). It was all over Twitter and a lot of people had a lot of things to say about it. We came out with the win, which is what we came here to do.”
Grantham was more direct.
“That was a horrible call,” Grantham said. “I hate that he goes out that way. You’ve got to let defensive players play. I really feel horrible it ended like that.
“That’s not the way football is. It’s a violent sport. You’ve got to give us some things too. I was really disappointed in that call.”
For the record, Stacy Thomas, the guy who replaced Burgess, led Louisville with 11 tackles. Wiggins missed considerable time. He returned to the game but struggled and did not make any hits. Ratley did not catch a pass for A&M.
Petrino was more understanding. He understands that it is a complicated and important call because the intent of the rule is to reduce serious injuries.
“I mean, it's about player safety, and we're trying to do everything we can to keep players healthy and players safe,” Petrino said. “That's always a really hard call and a really hard thing.
“I think we do a great job of teaching our players what we call the strike zone, where we want to hit from, from below the chest to the top of the knees. But on that particular play, you've got a receiver coming from in the air down, and even though you're trying to hit that strike zone, as you're going up and he's coming down, sometimes it happens.
“You see it throughout. The rule is good. It's a rule that we need in our game, and you just have to live with it sometimes. I know James wasn't trying to do that.”
Burgess retreated to the U of L locker room at Nissan Stadium and watched the remainder of the 4-hour game on television. At halftime, he talked to his defensive teammates and shared several insights he learned from the telecast. Louisville defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons called him a “great teammate.”
“I was in the locker room just sitting in the coaches’ lounge,” Burgess said. “They had a TV in there. I watched every play.”
“I was screaming and yelling the whole game. I felt like I was still out there.”
I asked Burgess if he considered sneaking into the tunnel and watching the game from there. He did consider it. He did not leave the locker room – until he had official approval to join his teammates on the field for the trophy presentation.
“I really wanted to but I think you get penalized if you come back on the field,” Burgess said.
Burgess finished his career with 44 starts and 261 career tackles. He also intercepted seven passes during his career.
“I had a great time at Louisville,” Burgess said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Except one call.
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