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COMMENTARY: Beware UCLA head hunters, Cougars; Despite targeting rules, QBs and other players still dropping like flies

ALONG WITH ALL of Cougar Nation, I held my breath last Saturday as Luke Falk lay motionless after an egregious hit. A moment later Falk had jumped to his feet, about as mad as I have ever seen him, and rightly so, and Stanford's Justin Reid was booted for targeting. It gave me flashbacks of the targeting hit Falk absorbed at UCLA last season. That foul wasn't called for some reason, and it still bothers me.

It also bothers me, with the Bruins coming to town, because of what UCLA has shown this season on Saturdays. CF.C managing editor Barry Bolton told me he counted three helmet-to-helmet contacts against Stanford by UCLA defenders on Christian McCaffrey earlier this season … on a single play.  Incredibly, none were called on the field nor by the official in the booth. And that booth official this season has the power to ring down to the field, review, and call targeting if missed on the field.

I'd like to say the targeting not called on Falk last year by UCLA bothers me only for the sake of Luke Falk's health.  And that is my primary concern. But it also rankles because that hit would have robbed WSU of what became 9-4 season. Special players like Falk are the foundation of the entire program.

The Cougars were a shell of themselves without Falk last year, and don't think opponents weren't aware of it. WSU failed to score a single point after he was knocked out of the Colorado game, and committed seven turnovers in his absence against UW.

Teams will always have to endure injuries, but not all injuries are equal.  We’ll get back to Cougs-Bruins in a moment where this subject is concerned but first, it’s important to note, it's happening conference-wide. Indeed, there are an alarming amount of injuries suffered by key players in the Pac-12 this season.

Arizona was down to their third-string quarterback this practice week. Arizona State too. Colorado has started their backup QB the last two weeks (although Sefo Liufau might be healthy now). Davis Webb got banged up against Oregon State on Saturday and suddenly couldn't complete a pass. Josh Rosen was sent to the locker room twice against ASU. The casualty list is taken a huge toll on Pac-12 teams, and we have not yet entered the second half of the season.

To be sure not all those injuries were avoidable, and most of them weren't specifically a result of targeting. But many of them have derived predominantly from cheap shots and launch tackling. And even one of those is one too many.

The new targeting rules, as many people predicted, have resulted in players mostly just aiming lower, and this is increasing the number of knee and lower leg injuries. Perhaps this is an acceptable trade off to the powers that be, but it still only addresses the location of injuries rather than their source.  And aiming lower may result in fewer concussions, but that is little consolation to the fans of the teams who will be starting the water boy at quarterback this week. Meanwhile, certain teams seem highly prone to launch tackling.

When I scouted UCLA this week I spotted a number of uncalled targeting fouls and late hits (as did our managing editor as noted above) and it turns out we’re not the first to do so. Stanford writers have noted the same thing.

From my vantage point in watching games, UCLA's defense -- particularly their secondary, plays with a reckless abandon. They are highly emotionally charged, reflecting the demeanor of their head coach, Jim Mora. But where is the line?  Watching tape on the UCLA-ASU game, I saw a number of hits on key offensive players that sure looked like late hits out of bounds. None of these plays drew a flag.

ASU and UCLA's defenses have a similar style, and they seemed to feed off of each other as the game went on. At the end, both teams had knocked the opposing quarterback out of the game.

The more I have scouted the Bruins D this week, one player stands out: No. 21, Tahaan Goodman.

Goodman is the player that knocked out Francis Owusu in the Stanford game. The officials didn’t flag it, and the replay booth official determined this was not targeting because Goodman did not hit Owusu with the top of his helmet, but instead hit him with the front of his helmet.  The NCAA changed the wording of the rule days later, so this would be targeting going forward. Seriously? It took the NCAA years to get this right in the first place, to say that um, yeah, this is targeting?

Goodman is the one that launched at Dalton Schultz a few plays before Owusu’s injury.

He knocked Nate Phillips out of a game with a launch two years ago.

You can see him launching at Demario Richard last week (who has to duck)

And yes, he is the guy who tried to take out Falk last year.

Again, none of the above plays garnered a penalty flag.  The Pac-12 after the fact last year admitted the hit on Falk was a missed targeting call. As you can see, that admission has had zero impact going forward on Goodman's play. (And replay showed his forearm actually made solid contact with Falk's head, with Falk's helmet then bouncing violently off the turf).

TO BE FAIR to Goodman, he is only doing as he has been coached.  And he is only filling a role that has existed in football for decades: The Enforcer, the player who lays waste to anyone that wanders into the secondary. Players like Jack Tatum, Steve Atwater and Ronnie Lott made hall of fame careers out of the kind of devastating hits Goldman is trying to mimic.

Goodman isn't a bad person. But the way he plays is putting people in genuine danger. More egregious to me, neither his coaches nor the refs nor the conference have corrected him on it for at least two years, as the video above illustrates.

And if you look at some of these plays, he was neither going for the ball nor trying to make a tackle, he was simply trying to take his opponent out. At some point, if a coaching staff won’t correct it, it falls to the Pac-12 conference or the NCAA to seriously review the tape on these kinds of hits and lay down suspensions on players who are intentionally putting people at risk. Repeat offenders in particular.

Instead, I’ve listened in vain with each passing week as the Pac-12 has yet to even admit it has a problem.

The way things are headed?  The Pac-12 championship is about to become a question of last quarterback standing.

FROM THE 2012 CF.C ARCHIVES: Helmet-to-helmet rules badly in need of a fix by NCAA


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