WSU Cougars

WSU coach on targeting rule: ‘It’s a stupid rule’

Washington State head coach Mike Leach is no fan of college football’s targeting rule, saying it is too hard to enforce and is often not a malicious penalty.
Washington State head coach Mike Leach is no fan of college football’s targeting rule, saying it is too hard to enforce and is often not a malicious penalty. AP

Many college football coaches think the game’s targeting rule needs a trip to the review booth. Washington State’s Mike Leach would rather just abolish it.

Leach believes the penalty is too difficult to enforce, and therefore should be eliminated. And even though the Cougars have a clean track record this season, Leach would rather see the NCAA do away with the rule than gain 15 yards a pop every time WSU’s opponent commits an infraction.

“It’s a stupid rule, it’s a really stupid rule,” the coach said Monday during his weekly news conference.

A drastic increase in head injuries and brain trauma over the last decade-plus triggered NCAA officials to implement the targeting rule in 2008. It mandates that a player can’t use the crown of his helmet to make contact with another player above the shoulders. Players also incur the targeting penalty if they utilize their helmet, forearm, hand, elbow or shoulder to strike a defenseless receiver.

The rule didn’t have too many critics until 2013, when officials determined in addition to a 15-yard penalty, players would be tossed from the game and forced to miss the next half.

Stanford certainly could’ve used inside linebacker Joey Alfieri in the first half of Saturday’s 24-21 loss at WSU, but the all-conference defenseman had been punished for a targeting violation in the second half of the previous game against Oregon State. Alfieri returned for the second half in Pullman, but the Cardinal trailed, 14-7, at that point.

According to an Associated Press story earlier in the year, there was a 73 percent increase in the number of targeting penalties enforced through the first three weeks of the current FBS season. In 2016, there were 0.17 targeting calls per game, according to the AP. In 2017, that number’s increased to 0.26.

Leach has more than a few quarrels with the rule. Referees are often left to make knee-jerk reactions when they see two helmets clank and even though every call is sent back to the video booth, a review may not always provide the clarity needed to make the right call.

“Even then, I see the thing get fouled up,” Leach said.

And nine times out of 10, the play isn’t malicious, he believes. Football contorts the body in different ways and often a defensive player doesn’t have the time he needs to adjust his position when an offensive player lowers his head at the last second.

“This guy raises up, this guy goes down and for the most part I haven’t seen it deliberate,” Leach said. “Somebody just ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time. If the guy’s not trying to target, but then ends up targeting somebody and gets called for it.”

SENIOR DAY HIGHLIGHTS

Playing in front of family members for the first time in his college football career, senior rush linebacker Frankie Luvu made the clinching interception with 15 seconds left Saturday in the Cougars’ rousing 24-21 win over Stanford in the team’s last home game of the season.

“When the (WSU) offense was in, I was telling myself I need to make a play,” said Luvu, who entered the postgame interview room wearing an elaborate garland of leaves that his family had brought from their home in American Samoa. “It’s going to come down to me. I want the play to come to me. It was a team effort. It wasn’t an individual play.”

Luvu’s parents, siblings, aunts and uncles had been planning a trip to Pullman for months to watch his final home game. His mother had accompanied him to Pullman when he enrolled at the school in 2014, but this was the first time his father had left Samoa aside from a trip to Fiji.

Senior nose tackle Daniel Ekuale, whose Samoan family was also watching him play collegiately for the first time, tallied his first sack of the season in the Cougars’ dominant defensive performance.

TOUGH ROAD AHEAD

The last three weeks for WSU lines up like this: At Utah on Saturday, bye and then in Seattle for the Apple Cup.

Those away games have not been kind to the Cougars, who have not just lost in their last two road games, they’ve been outscored 95-40 by Cal and Arizona.

Utah is suddenly not a pushover. Coming off four consecutive losses in the Pac-12, Utah responded with a resounding 48-17 win over Josh Rosen-less UCLA. The Cougars have plenty to play for in this game, but do so the Utes. Beating the Bruins meant win No. 5 for Utah, which can clinch bowl eligibility with an upset in Salt Lake City this weekend.

The Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune contributed to this report.

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