Practice Notes 9/26

A closer look at the hit on Owusu; Inside Stanford's two-minute drill

Owusu will not play against Washington 

As expected, Shaw opened Monday’s press conference talking about the vicious hit on Francis Owusu by UCLA defensive back Tahaan Goodman in the second quarter of the victory over the Bruins. Shaw confirmed that Owusu suffered a concussion, and though the receiver is feeling better, he will be held out of Friday’s game against Washington.

“If it was up to him, he’d play next week, but that’s not up to him,” Shaw said.

The most telling thing over the course of the press conference was that Shaw never stated that the hit should have been called targeting, and when pressed for an explanation of the conversation that he had with the Pac-12 offices, he sidestepped the question.

Instead of arguing that the officials were incorrect not to throw a flag, Shaw focused his argument on the notion that the rules, as they currently stand, are not adequate to properly ensure player safety. He insisted that the rulebook and the definition of the targeting penalty should be changed instead to outlaw any helmet-to-helmet hits, rather than the situational rules that are currently being enforced.

“In the spirit of where we are in our football world right now, high school, college, NFL, you should throw a flag. It should be a penalty,” Shaw said. “The initial contact was helmet-to-helmet.  It’s not what we want. It’s exactly what we say we don’t want. So if we don’t want it, it should be penalized.

“There’s language that obviously needs to be amended. Preferably sooner than later." 

I suspect that the league office convinced Shaw that the hit did not meet the current rulebook’s requirements for targeting, which is why he directed his frustration at the rules and not at UCLA or the officials. 

After reviewing the play and the rulebook, I’m starting to understand more why the play wasn’t called a penalty, as I’ll explain in a second – but the bottom line is that like Shaw, I don’t agree with the non-call and think that the current rules are too subjective, which leads them to be inconsistently enforced.

The targeting foul requires one of two criteria be satisfied: 1) The defender targets and makes forcible contact to the head or neck of a defenseless player; 2) The defender targets and makes forcible contact with the crown of his helmet. 

Looking at the play itself, Owusu is running a skinny post on third-and-15 and Burns hits him in stride at around the first-down marker. Crucially, Owusu has time to turn downfield and take around five or six quick steps while scanning his surroundings before he’s hit in the helmet by Goodman. 

As far as a receiver goes, he is considered a defenseless player when “attempting to catch a forward pass or in position to receive a backwards pass, or one who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball-carrier.”

There isn’t much doubt that Owusu had clearly become a ball-carrier, and given that he had time to take five or six quick steps while looking downfield, it could be argued that he’d had time to protect himself. A blindside hit like the one that got Owusu is hard to “protect” against no matter whether it’s two seconds after the catch or twenty – though that’s obviously a judgment call that could go either way. 

The rule does also say “when in question, a player is defenseless,” but again, judgment call, and (even though I don’t necessarily agree), I could see their call that it wasn’t necessarily in question being defensible.

So let’s say that Owusu wasn’t defenseless.

The other thing that targeting could be called for is use of the crown of the helmet, which is, exactly as it sounds, the top of the helmet (the area that a crown would cover on one’s head).

On replay, Goodman seems to make first contact with the area just above his facemask (not the crown) and doesn’t appear to make an exaggerated launch, which makes this side of the rule difficult to enforce as well. 

In conclusion… Was the hit dirty? Absolutely. Should the league outlaw such hits? Without a doubt. But was the rule in its current form properly enforced? Unfortunately, one can argue that it was. 

If the NCAA wants to take “player safety” seriously, it needs to start thinking about making all such unnecessary helmet-to-helmet contact illegal – whether intentional or not. This is too serious (and dangerous) of an issue not to do so.

Two-minute drills and Trenton Irwin’s vacuum hands 

Stanford doesn’t expect to be trailing at the end of too many games, but the Cardinal don’t skimp on their two-minute drill preparation because of it – they devote entire sessions to it during camp and then practice it once a week during the season.

“I think it actually throws a lot of teams off-guard that we’re actually really good at the two-minute,” Irwin said. “If you look at past years, our two-minute offense has been fantastic. I don’t know what it is that’s different about ours from others, but I think it just throws some teams off-guard because they haven’t practiced all week for Stanford’s two-minute offense.”

According to QB/WR coach Tavita Pritchard, the Cardinal didn’t call all too many different looks or do too much different on the last drive, with one big distinction: Owusu had taken most of the reps in those looks during the year, and with him out, Stanford actually had to slide Michael Rector over into a different role and count on Arcega-Whiteside to progress quickly.

“It’s not that we were doing different things; it’s that we were executing at a very high level on that last drive,” Pritchard said. “We just need to operate at that level. There are no magic plays.”

Pritchard said that his experience as a former quarterback helps him teach the wide receivers the “big picture” much more effectively, and he praised Rector, the veteran, for being a receiver that he can go to in situations like Saturday to play at more than one wide receiver position.

Irwin also played a huge role in that game-winning drive, when he caught three passes for 44 yards, including a stellar jumping catch on the sideline to move the chains.

If you’ve stuck around after any of Stanford’s practices, you know all about Irwin’s insane work ethic. He’s almost always the last man off the practice field, as he stays back after every practice to continue to work on his drills on his own.

Before practice, he catches around 60-100 passes, then after practice, he’ll work on specific things like jump man (Monday), one-handed catches (Tuesday), distraction drills (Wednesday) and other types of catches that he feels he needs improvement on.

“As many reps in as many different looks as possible,” Irwin says.

All that hard work paid off – for both him and the Cardinal.


Other notes

  • Injury status of Alijah Holder, Quenton Meeks and Daniel Marx are still unknown. Shaw says we should know in the next day or so.
  •  Shaw said that the last touchdown pass – Burns to Arcega-Whiteside on the fade – had been repeatedly executed on the scout team last season and was a reliable connection. Arcega-Whiteside said that it was executed just like it had been in practice, and that the play call was a double fade… and he and Burns shared a subtle nod in the huddle. (For the record, the other receiver in the huddle was Michael Rector, not known for his fades, so it seemed pretty clear Arcega-Whiteside was getting the ball anyway.)
  •  A.T. Hall to left tackle and Casey Tucker to right tackle appears to be a permanent move, particularly after the latest depth chart reflected the change. Shaw said the coaches had been talking about it for a while because they’d noticed that Tucker seemed to be more fluid and comfortable on the right side and appeared to be a “more natural right tackle.” ("We talked about after the USC game, it’s probably going to go this way, so why wait? Let’s [make the switch] right now,” Shaw said.)
  • On the Trent Irwin pass trick play, the offense was hoping to provide additional misdirection based on the fact that Irwin is left-handed, which they were counting on UCLA to not know. Unfortunately, the Bruins actually covered the play pretty well. (“We haven’t watched the film yet, but hopefully I don’t get in too much trouble,” Irwin said. “I probably shouldn’t have thrown it.”)
  • According to Irwin, the receivers had actually had an informal competition amongst themselves in makeshift “QB drills” to see who had the best distance, accuracy, distance/accuracy combo, etc. and according to Irwin, he won – even over former high school record-setting quarterback Jay Tyler.



 “Our mentality [run blocking] has just been to give 5 a crease, since he’s going to make something happen. We’re just trying to strain that extra half-a-second, one-second, try to get a little crease for him to make something happen. And he’s been doing a heck of a job, and we’ve been doing a heck of a job of staying on blocks. As far as the passing game goes, I think that’s going to evolve. We have a young quarterback. We have fairly young receivers, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in the next few weeks with that, but I think that’ll come because this running game is coming along. I’m hoping that will evolve, too.” – Dalton Schultz

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