Officials should not have ejected Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith for targeting in the second quarter of Saturday's game against Michigan, the Big Ten acknowledged in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Smith, attempting to break up a pass near the goal line, hit the helmet of a diving Grant Perry. Officials threw a flag -- which the Big Ten said was the right move -- but the conference said the referees should have then reversed the call upon further review.
"In this particular play, the defense was making a legitimate attempt to get the ball and, upon full review, the call of targeting should have been reversed by the replay official," the Big Ten wrote.
The Nittany Lions had already lost all their starting linebackers to injury when Smith, a backup and a walk-on, was ejected. Penn State was essentially forced to plug in fourth-stringer Jan Johnson, a former wrestler, who then suffered a season-ending injury.
Immediately following the game, Penn State coach James Franklin said the officials technically made the right decision because the rule doesn't factor in intent.
"It's the right call," Franklin said Saturday. "If you have helmet-to-helmet contact with a defenseless player, there's no gray area."
Asked again about the call on Wednesday following the Big Ten's statement, Franklin said, "To be honest with you, I can't say a whole lot about any of these types of things. I was told one thing during the game, so I reinforced that in the press conference -- what I was told. And, obviously, we're been in conversations since then with the Big Ten, and they came out with a statement today.
"I think we've done a pretty good job with targeting, in general. That was kind of a unique situation, so that's one of the reasons the Big Ten came out with a statement to make sure everybody's clear. Because it's a little bit of a gray area."