LAS VEGAS - This will be too late to console Air Force fans, but rules changes mean a replay review would have changed Weston Steelhammer's targeting call in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Replay officials will be granted broader power this year to look at a whole targeting call and determine if targeting had, in fact, occurred. In the case of Steelhammer's hit on the third defensive play of the game that led to his ejection, his head was cocked to the side and was not used to initiate the contact on a California receiver after a pass fell incomplete.
Last year, because the helmets hit, there was no way a replay official could rule indisputably that the call on the field was incorrect. Now, the leeway will allow them to better interpret what happened.
"By rule, the call was correct last year," Mountain West coordinator of football officials Greg Burks said Wednesday morning at Mountain West Media Days.
"But if that play happened this year, targeting would not be called."
Burks said the Steelhammer play was specifically shown at various rules meeting and officials conferences when talking about the tweak to the rule.
Without their two-time All-Mountain West safety, Air Force had few answers for eventual No. 1 NFL Draft pick Jared Goff in a 55-36 loss. Goff threw for 467 yards and six touchdowns. So, in many ways, this ruling will probably feel like a pardon granted after a death sentence was carried out.
Burks said the change to the rule is part of the ongoing process to make football as safe as possible.
"There are a lot of plays where the helmet is going to be involved, there's just no way around it," Burks said. "With this rule change, we are allowing replay to look for intent.
"The game is under fire for safety, we all know that. So all of these rules are designed to make the game safer, that's what we all want. But the pendulum swings back and forth and we want the rules to be fair. When a defender does everything he can do not to commit a foul, we don't want that foul called. And we're talking about a very serious foul and sending him to the locker room, so we want to get it right."