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Notre Dame Football: Best Seat in the House - Cut Blocks are SOOO 2015

Don’t know what a legal cut block is? Sit down son.

Mike Miller/One Foot Down

With the Notre Dame Fighting Irish all set to take on the Navy Midshipmen in San Diego on Saturday night, it’s probably a good time to refresh on what we know about cut blocks and low blocks. Resident “referee supporter” Clearwall, has pieced together some things you should probably know.

Well here we are, another self-proclaimed “rivalry” game (little r) facing the Fig Things this week. Up next, the Mighty Mids of Annapolis welcome us to their “home” for a tilt that promises to be irritating, frustrating, annoying, and many other adjectives ending in “-ing.” Part of why this game drives so many Irish faithful insane is the prolific use of cut blocking that the Naval Academy employs along with their triple option. Done correctly, the cut block is the perfect way for smaller players to gain an advantage over big bruising defenders who cannot be stopped if they must be hit up high. Newton’s second and third laws and all that…

Because of this, I felt it was necessary to put together this piece on the legality and illegality of the cut block and low blocks in general. A few years ago, I put together this piece:

When we went up against the Goats, and boy, have things really changed. We’ve had two official rules change years since that first article went up in 2014 and with every new rulebook that comes out, we see a further degradation of situations where you can legally block low. To save you the time re-reading that(because I KNOW everyone here did read that, right?) here is a summation of what the rules USED to be:

2014 – Made low blocks officially ILLEGAL except in certain conditions. Previously, low blocking was generally LEGAL except for a few cases. This was a big philosophical change because you now had a shift in “if it looks bad” then it’s now a foul. Previously if there was any question, you’d ignore it and not flag the action.

2016 – Got rid of all of the ”low blocking zone” that was extremely difficult to officiate. Trying to determine who was in that zone and who was responsible for seeing it was a nightmare for those of us in stripes. 2016, they said that if you were a lineman you could block low with no restriction until the ball left the tackle box. After that, you had to block within the 10 and 2 region of the opponent’s body and you could never block back towards your own goal.

So we got all that? If you want to discuss these previous years rules in more detail, add a question in the comment, but it’s really just for reference. It doesn’t apply anymore. 2018 was another rules change year and once again, low blocks got on the chopping block once again. It’s really no surprise. Rogers Redding has been saying since about 2013 that low blocks are going to be made illegal eventually. In most states(except God’s country and Massachusetts) high school football makes this the case. You can’t block low AT ALL, so the kids coming into college are being taught to do this in the NCAA. Very few kids come in knowing how to execute a cut block. In one of the comments sections I was reading yesterday, I was shown an absolute NASTY hit by a Navy player against a Houston player and according to reports, he’s likely not going to play their next game against USF. Now, this is a CHOP block, not a simple low block, but the fact that Navy players are cutting is creating a rise for them committing the Chop Blocks as well.

Low blocking is inherently dangerous. I’d argue even more so than targeting, and especially most recently because of the hefty price a player pays for being flagged for targeting. The game ejection is really taking those hits out of the game so hits to the head happen much less frequently than the low blocks that tear ACLs.

I’ve been going on much too long about history and importance…here are the rules changes I promised.

  • Linemen may block low in any direction and at any point on the defender’s body. Basically if you fire off the line low, you’re ok. Once the ball leaves the tackle box, the interior linemen have to block within 10 and 2 just like every other player.
  • Anyone else on the field, including RBs and TEs even if they are behind the interior linemen, MUST block within the 10 and 2 region. To simplify 10-2, basically think about “can the defender see the block coming?”
  • Anyone who is not an interior lineman or a back BEHIND an interior lineman may not “crackback” low. Crackback means to go back towards where the ball is snapped.

This is a LEGAL block back towards the ball because it is 10-2 and done by a back. If this had been a WR it would have been illegal, as is seen in this video…

  • Created the 5-yard BELT. This applies to both the offense AND the defense. No player may block low AT ALL outside of this belt which is defined as 5 yards beyond and behind the LOS.
  • Once the ball leaves the tackle box, NO ONE can block towards their own goal line.

We also got some more interpretation on what “from the front/10-2” meant in practice. What we saw in 2016 and ’17 were players diving at legs and they would make contact with the front of their legs, but players were still getting hurt. Steve Shaw(NCAA Rules Editor) decided that it wasn’t legal just to make contact with the front of the player you were cutting. The person being blocked literally had to see you coming. That made blocks like this illegal:

You can see that the block hits the front of the body, but clearly the direction of the block is from the side. Legal in 2017, illegal in 2018.

I was listening to the BGI podcast tonight and Brian Driskell mentioned something that really made me take notice…he was talking about the kind of cut blocking Navy employs and why it has made them so dangerous in the past. He talked about how it’s not the cuts at the line that really make their options work, its when safeties and players at the second level get it. That made me wonder if #4 is the biggest problem and explanation for why Navy is only 2-5 this year. If the past editions have relied on them taking out the second level and this year their size disadvantage is being exploited, that really explains a lot. And it showcases why guys like Troy Calhoun fought so vehemently against just eliminating low blocks altogether.

Here are some plays and official rulings that are in the rulebook to help us understand the rules:

A.R. 9-1-6-IV

At the snap A82 is positioned on the line of scrimmage to the right side of the formation, 10 yards from the snapper. Back A31, a flanker positioned to the left side of the formation, runs a deep reverse to the right side after receiving the ball from a teammate. As the play develops A82 blocks linebacker B62 toward the line through the original position of the ball. The block by A82 is below the waist and directly at the front, clearly inside the “10 o’clock to 2 o’clock” width. The block occurs (a) less than 5 yards downfield; or (b) more than 5 yards beyond the neutral zone.

RULING: (a) Illegal crackback block. The block below the waist is directed toward the line through the original position of the ball. 15-yard penalty. (b) Illegal crackback block, 15-yard penalty.

AR 9-1-6-VII

Back A22 is stationary inside the tackle box at the snap. After the snap he shoots between the tackle and the guard on his side, crosses into Team B’s secondary and blocks low on linebacker B55 (a) less than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; or (b) more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

The contact is at B55’s thigh from the side and is directed straight ahead of A22.

RULING: In both (a) and (b): Illegal block below the waist. Since A22’s initial position is not on the line in the tackle box, he is restricted from blocking other than with a “10-2” block. 15-yard penalty

Hopefully this was beneficial to someone and gives you something to look out for this week (because I swear to God if I keep hearing people whining about missing holding for another week, I’m going to go insane). Be on the lookout for Navy getting flagged if they stray outside of these parameters. Hopefully it wont end with Tillery or Hayes ending up like Ed Oliver. If and Billies try to go low, I expect the AAC crew (of whom I have some friends in that conference), to back them up 15 yards and make them try again.