Despite its inherent safety concerns, a big hit is one of football's most exciting plays. It gets the juice flowing, gets a team fired up, gets fans engaged into the game. Even though new rules are designed to limit illegal targeting, it remains one of the more indelible images of a very physical and violent sport.
During Friday's game, Florida State quarterback Everett Golson levied a hit on Boston College defensive lineman Kevin Kavalec during the first quarter's opening drive. It was a wallop of a smack, one that knocked Kavalec out of the game.
It was a triple option play reverse designed to completely fake out the Boston College defense. Golson lined up in the shotgun with Dalvin Cook and performed a read option run to the left hand side. With the majority of the BC defense following Cook to the right, the running back pitches it by design to a reverse back to the other direction.
The play call lines up two blockers on the outside of the play - the right tackle is the lead blocker out in space with a wide receiver split far enough out to engage a defensive back in an attempt to open up a hole. It worked to perfection; four offensive linemen drew left with the majority of BC's defense.
Since the tackle explodes out to the right, it left Kevin Kavalec unblocked. With the ball carrier needing to make up space to get out into space, Kavalec had a completely open space to cutting off the angle when all of a sudden Golson, who was leading out as a potential blocker, stops, pivots, and levels a complete shoulder into Kavalec.
The Boston College defensive lineman immediately went down with Golson standing over him. Kavalec eventually got up woozy and went off the field. He was labeled out of the rest of the game with a head injury.
The question on the play isn't if Golson shouldn't have blocked Kavalec. He needed to occupy the defensive lineman in order to avoid having the play go for a loss. It's an absolutely necessary block, one that many quarterbacks hesitate to make out of fear of injury. The only question I had after the play was if the play was dirty, and if it was, was this a bad play reminiscent of those truck stick plays officials are trying to limit or outright eradicate from the game.
If you rewind the play back to the beginning, you see it automatically develop:
Even in that screen shot, you can see Kavalec looking straight ahead at the ballcarrier. Golson, meanwhile, is looking back, realizing that the defensive lineman is coming in for the stick on the running back. At that moment, Golson stops in his tracks and pivots. Kavalec, meanwhile, does not.
If you look at the frame when Golson sizes him up, it's obvious that Kavalec never saw it coming. There's enough of an angle where Kavalec is still moving in the exact path of where Golson is standing while not even looking in that direction.
Kavalec never saw it coming. Golson, meanwhile, had that hit lined up at the exact moment he realized he was going to have throw a block.
It's a bang-bang type of play. Golson had a split second to decide how he was going to get in the way of Kavalec. It was an instinctive play to lower the shoulder, and he brings the boom right into the shoulders and chest of the defensive lineman. It's a big hit, one where a six-foot, 200 pound quarterback decleats a 6'2", 250-pound defensive lineman.
The play came at a key spot. With all of the emotion and intensity surrounding the game, it quieted the crowd and sent a statement. Golson stood over Kavalec because he felt the momentum and the juice that comes with a big hit, but it wasn't a taunt. It got the FSU fans up and on their feet, hooting and hollering. Because it came from a quarterback, it doubly served as one of those plays where an offense soundly announced it would take on a defense right in the teeth, and it propelled Golson into assassin mode. The drive, unsurprisingly, finished with a touchdown and momentarily killed all of the air of the stadium.
I don't think Golson wanted to hurt Kavalec. I do think he saw the opportunity to lay a hit stick bash on a defensive lineman, and in that split second, used his instincts to level a massive hit. I don't lay blame on Golson for making the hit.
If I do have a problem with the hit, it's that Kavalec clearly wasn't looking and, based on the bang-bang nature of the play, had no way to ever see that coming. Although Golson didn't leave his feet and certainly didn't lead with his helmet (he hit Kavalec with a shoulder-to-chest block), he absolutely targeted the block. He clearly looked at the defensive lineman, stopped, and instead of engaging in run blocking, he lit a player up with a shoulder into the center of the chest. While he's substantially smaller, it would've been "cleaner" if he were able to put his hands on the jersey and engage in a pure run blocking stance (the outcome, for what it's worth, probably would've been substantially different)
It resulted in an injury, which automatically, in my book, makes it a dangerous play. Instinctive or not, this is the exact type of play football is supposed to be trying to eradicate - a hit on a defenseless player. It's absolutely, 100% not a penalty nor is it a dirty play, it's just a bad play, one that hopefully doesn't cause Kavalec to miss extended time.