Wisconsin waiting for answers from NCAA on Nick Herbig’s targeting penalty

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin football program has filed an appeal asking the NCAA to review the targeting call that could sideline outside linebacker Nick Herbig for the first half of the regular-season finale against Minnesota.

Herbig, one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten Conference, was ejected in the third quarter of UW’s 15-14 road victory over Nebraska Saturday. Officials made the call after the junior star’s shoulder struck Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson in the side of the head at the end of a 4-yard run.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved measures in the offseason that made targeting fouls committed in the second half of games eligible for appeal. According to the NCAA, “the process will begin with a conference submitting a request to the NCAA national coordinator of officials, who would review video of the play. If it is obvious that a player was incorrectly penalized for targeting, the call would be overturned, and the player would be cleared to play in the first half of the next game.” 

“We have started that process, and we’ll continue to push,” interim head coach Jim Leonhard said. “I don’t agree with the call, so we want to get some clarity on if it was correct, and we want to use it to train our players better to avoid those situations. It’s unfortunate that it was called that way. Hopefully, we can get it changed, but I don’t know what the likelihood of that will be.”

Herbig said he “did everything” he could to avoid Thompson, who was in the act of sliding as Herbig approached him. Thompson, known for his mobility, led the Huskers with 33 yards rushing on 11 attempts, some of which weren’t designed running plays.

“Earlier in the game, he was running and wasn’t sliding at all,” Herbig said. “He was trying to get all of the yards he could get, which I respect. I respect that, especially for a quarterback. I saw him break the pocket, and I didn’t think he was going to slide. He went down at the last second.”

The replay showed Herbig attempting to turn his body away from Thompson.

“I did try everything I could to not touch him,” Herbig said. “I know, especially when a quarterback is sliding, if you touch him, that’s going to be a flag.”

The penalty added 15 yards to Thompson’s gain and set Nebraska up at their 39-yard line. Four plays later, on a 1st-and-10 from UW’s 42, the Huskers gained 15 more yards via penalty when officials called safety John Torchio for roughing the passer. Thompson ended the drive by giving the Huskers a 14-3 lead on a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Trey Palmer. 

Herbig remained on the UW sideline after his ejection but had to leave the field when officials called him for unsportsmanlike conduct early in the fourth quarter. That penalty came after Herbig ran onto the field to celebrate with wide receiver Skyler Bell, who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to cut Nebraska’s lead to 14-9.

“Yeah, that was rough,” Herbig said. “That was really one of the darkest times in my career. Right when they said I was kicked out, everything kind of just went silent. I couldn’t hear anything. It was crazy. I wanted to be there for the boys. I wanted to win that game. Not being able to be out there with them hurt. I hurt a lot.”

Herbig watched the last 10 minutes of the contest from the locker room with Chris Orr and Collin Wilder. Herbig said they erupted in celebration when the offense drove down the field in the final minutes and took the lead on quarterback Graham Mertz’s 1-yard rushing score. The Huskers got the ball back with 28 seconds left but ran out of time.

“I was going bananas,” Herbig said. “We were punching each other, shoving each other, jumping up and down. Man, it was wild. I was like, ‘I have to put my coat and shoes on if I want to go meet them in the tunnel.'”

Herbig has set career highs and leads the Big Ten with 11 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss of yards. Other outside linebackers like C.J. Goetz, Kaden Johnson and Darryl Peterson stepped up in his absence against the Huskers. Peterson, a redshirt freshman, sacked Thompson for a loss of seven yards minutes after Bell’s touchdown. Goetz finished with seven tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, and Johnson made three stops.

More of those plays will be needed if Herbig has to watch the first half against the Gophers this week.

“It was awesome,” Goetz, the starter opposite Herbig, said. “KJ and DP filled in, and that’s not easy. Both did an excellent job and really contributed and helped us make some big stops.”

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