Locker's hit on Oregon's Justin Hoffman was below the shoulders. It was a legal hit. Replays were conclusive. With the existence of the conference's letter to Wulff now known, it's clear that Locker was flagged for one reason and one reason only -- because he has a reputation among officials.
Not anymore, not where Locker is concerned. Locker is now a marked man, and any hard hit where he doesn't wrap up is likely to be flagged.
The key part of the preceding sentence is "wrap up."
Yes, it's easier to deliver a big hit when the defender "shoulder blocks" the ballcarrier. Yes, fans love the big hits, and players like George Atkinson and Jack Tatum would be flag magnets in today's game. Yes, the television talking heads who used to praise the defenders who punished players coming over the middle are few and far between in today's climate.
The game has changed. And Locker will have to change with it. He has to wrap up, from here on out. That's the only way. Unless a rules change were to be made, though that seems unlikely. Still, WSU defensive coordinator Chris Ball thinks those kinds of penalties should be reviewable calls.
"These kids are going after the football, those collisions are going to happen and if they happen in a split second, I don't think people are purposely trying to hurt people -- it's just the way the game is," said Ball.
Ball has told Locker to keep playing hard, and to go lower.
"He's not out there trying to hurt people. You look at a couple of those hits and they weren't (helmet-to-helmet hits). You have to let him play," said Ball.
BALL ALSO SAID he agrees 100 percent with officials trying to protect players and so do I. Indeed, I welcome it. My enjoyment as a fan in watching Locker decaffeinate a guy into next week is erased if that player is injured, either in the short term or later down the road. And that's the problem -- the refs are targeting the wrong kind of hit.
Week in and week out, in dozens and dozens of college football games this season, there have been untold numbers of helmet-to-helmet hits that have not been called. For a fan, it's often hard to be 100 percent sure at real speed that it is helmet-to-helmet contact. It's not easy for an official, either. But the sound tells you. The sound is unique, and it is nothing like the pads cracking.
But as an official, how do you call it when you can't see it, but only hear it? Simple, you watch the ballcarrier's helmet and only his helmet.
Officials, clearly, are not doing that. They need to start.
The number of missed calls will plummet. And with everything we know, and are still learning, about concussions, that's the biggest injury issue facing football today, at each and every level of the game. A Locker shoulder-block hits pales in comparison.
And if the officials do fix on the player's helmet, who knows, they'll likely be able to better identify actual contact above the shoulders as well.
NOT THAT IT will make a difference for Locker on Saturday afternoons. He needs to wrap up and Sekope Kaufusi too, the WSU ‘backer also appears to be gaining a reputation among officials. If they don't, a great, legal football play will continue to become a 15-yard penalty for the Cougs.
Meanwhile, the continued non-calls on helmet-to-helmet hits will, sadly, continue to produce a penalty far greater than any walked-off yardage.