CHAPEL HILL — The ACC has issued a one-game suspension to North Carolina freshman linebacker Shakeel Rashad as punishment for his pre-snap collision with Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon during the second quarter of the Blue Devils’ 33-30 victory on Saturday.
With about 10 minutes to play in the second quarter and Duke leading 13-6, Rashad ran from the sideline onto the field, where he collided with Vernon, the Blue Devils’ senior receiver, and knocked him to the ground. Vernon remained down for several moments but walked off the field unassisted and missed one play.
The ACC’s statement on Monday that announced Rashad’s suspension described it as a “dangerous collision.”
The league also suspended for one game a pair of officials who worked the game on Saturday. Tyrone Davis, the head linesman, and Angie Bartis, a side judge, were suspended for one game for what the ACC described as a “failure to adhere to correct mechanics of the game and rules related to player safety.”
Though Rashad clearly ran into Vernon, UNC wasn’t called for a penalty on the play.
Earlier on Monday, Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora defended Rashad and said the collision had been unintentional.
“First of all, you’ve got to know Rashad,” Fedora said. “He’s one of the nicest kids that we have on our football team and I can assure you there was no intention of harming the other player. Or actually, there was no intention on his part to actually even run into the player.”
Fedora said Rashad should have been on the field already, and was in “panic mode” trying to get onto the field in time. Fedora said, joking, that if Rashad had been more athletic he likely could have avoided Vernon.
“I promise [you], there was none of, ‘Hey, let me run into this guy and that will stop the play before it gets started,’” Fedora said. “There was no malice at all.”
Not long after Rashad collided with Vernon, Duke center Brian Moore engaged UNC defensive tackle Tim Jackson away from the play. Moore stood Jackson up, and then hit the ground and rolled through Jackson’s legs. Jackson suffered an injury on the play and Fedora said he’d miss two or three weeks.
“It’s unfortunate because it was away from the play,” Fedora said of the play involving Moore and Jackson. “I’m sure that the guy had no intention to harm him, either. But as the play was ending he ended up cutting a guy, and it’s put him out for two or three weeks.”
Jabari Price, the UNC junior cornerback, was less diplomatic when asked about the play.
Said Price: “I feel like it was a nasty play and I feel like something needs to be done.”
“I didn’t even get a chance to see that play until this morning on YouTube,” Price said. “And I haven’t talked to Tim yet, but I hope he bounces back. He’s a big part of our defensive line and it showed once we couldn’t stop the run.”
In statements that UNC released after the ACC announced Rashad’s suspension, Fedora, Rashad and Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, all expressed relief that Vernon wasn’t injured when Rashad ran into him.
Cunningham, though, also criticized the ACC for suspending Rashad.
“I spoke to Shakeel in the locker room after the game and he was obviously upset about making contact, but insisted that it unintentional and a result of rushing to get on the field as quickly he could,” Cunningham said. “We are disappointed with the decision to suspend him for a game. I don't understand how the conference can suspend a player who was involved in such an unusual play without speaking to him.”