A loss, tinged in yellow

THE OFFICIALS WEREN'T the reason Oregon State lost Saturday. Stanford was the better, more polished team. Period. And they clearly outplayed OSU and earned the win. But two dubious officials' calls helped author the game's storyline. The first resulted in a 14-point swing, taking a TD off the board for the Beavs. The second was the catalyst that propelled Stanford to effectively put the game away.

Jordan Poyer made a great play. But he, and the Beavs, got punished for it.

Both Poyer and Chris Owusu ducked before the hit, Owusu going way, way down into a crouch. If Owusu doesn't duck, there's no helmet-to-helmet contact.

And let's be clear, the ref didn't see, and did not call, helmet-to-helmet contact. The flag, the official said, was for "targeting above the shoulders." After the replays were shown, the story being spun was for a helmet-to-helmet hit. But that wasn't what was called.

For starters, how can you be called for an above the shoulders hit when the ballcarrier ducks into the other guy? When he goes low as you're tackling him? To take it a step further, how could you blame the tackler for helmet to helmet when the ballcarrier ducks into the other guy and causes the helmet-to-helmet contact?

Beavers coach Mike Riley and d-coordinator Mark Banker were livid on the sidelines and they let the officials know it. And they were right.

THE RULE WILL be changed next year. There have been a ton of similar calls in various games this season where the defensive player has been flagged. The volume of complaints has already built to such a level the powers that be will have to modify the rule.

Instant replay on those kinds of calls might be one way to go – Poyer's hit slowed down made it even more obvious it should have been a non-call. He didn't lead with his head, he didn't target the ballcarrier. He led with his shoulder.

But it didn't matter, a great football play from Poyer – a strong hit, forced fumble and return for a TD – was wiped out. Instead of 14-14 and all the momentum with OSU, Stanford was allowed to resume their drive and they took it in, forging a 21-7 lead.

As a side note, the collision between Owusu and Poyer's helmets was slight, as far as these things go. But Owusu was out before he hit the ground. It's the third time he's had a concussion in 13 months. The more concussions one gets, the more easily they occur, and with less and less contact needed to cause one. Owusu is a good football player, but I hope I never see him on the field again. I don't want him to end up having significant problems later in life, as several players have after experiencing multiple concussions and continuing to play. It's time now to put his Stanford education to work. For his sake.

THE FINAL SCORE ended up 38-13 but it was still a game, at 17-13, with under five minutes to go in the third quarter. It could have been closer than that, too.

A holding penalty called on Markus Wheaton wiped out a 30-yard gain by Brandin Cooks, a play that looked to have OSU on the march to the end zone. Replays showed little, if anything, that could be flagged. It was almost as if there had been complaints earlier in the game and the ref was, pre-snap, looking for something to call.

OSU had to punt, and that's when Stanford took control, scoring on their next drive and tacking on two more scores in short fashion. Game over.

STANFORD WAS PROBABLY always going to win this game. Even if OSU somehow had managed to forge a lead late, Stanford likely would have come back and put up a double-digit answer in short order. They were the better team.

But it should have been a closer game, longer. And who knows, maybe a fantastic finish was in store. The Beavs had two critical calls go against them, unfairly. And when you're playing a superior opponent, that extra challenge from the officials is too much to overcome. And they shouldn't have to try. Here's hoping the officials don't wait until next year to start getting it right.

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