Boise State targeted in targeting talk

The Broncos are prominent in video interpretations of college football’s new rule.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comAugust 10, 2013 

— Boise State sophomore safety Darian Thompson’s impressive debut season might look much different if the NCAA’s crackdown on hits to the head and neck would have arrived a year earlier.

Thompson likely would have been ejected at least twice last season under the new rule, which adds an automatic disqualification to the existing 15-yard penalty for “targeting.”

Officials have been told to error on the side of calling the foul. The ejection can be overturned on replay review, but the yardage penalty can’t.

Thompson was featured on a video presentation to the media at Mountain West media days for a hit against BYU, and in the NCAA player safety video distributed to teams for a hit against Washington.

Thompson, who started the final six games last year and is one of four returning starters on the Broncos’ defense, says he’ll adjust his style to fit the rule.

“I understand exactly what they’re saying — they make it very clear,” he said. “It’s not that hard to comprehend, so I’ll be ready. You’ve just got to be more careful. You can’t take the big hit that you always dreamed about when you were little. You’ve got to really think about what you’re doing and take the time to perfect it in practice, so when it comes game time you don’t have to think about not targeting — it just happens automatically.”

Targeting involves hitting a defenseless player — a receiver making a catch, for instance — above the shoulders or leading with the crown of the helmet.

In the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Thompson hit Washington wide receiver Jaydon Mickens in the face with his helmet in the end zone just before halftime. A penalty was called.

The new rule mandates an ejection. If the play occurs in the second half, the player must sit the first half of the next game, too.

“Last year, you’re thinking, ‘Man, I shouldn’t have gotten that penalty,’ ” Thompson said. “But it’s OK, you can go back and fix it the next play. You can’t this year. That’s a really big part of it.”

The NCAA video should hit home with all of the Broncos, not just Thompson.

Of 14 plays used to illustrate the rules, three involve the Broncos — a good, bad and ugly.

The good: Former safety George Iloka moved his head to the side of the receiver and led with his shoulder on a hard hit — “good, tough football but … perfectly legal,” the narrator says.

The bad: Thompson’s hit against Washington.

And the ugly: The hit that ended the career of former Boise State tailback Matt Kaiserman, who took a helmet to the face on a blindside block from a Utah player in the 2010 MAACO Bowl.

Players hit on blindside blocks have been added to the list of defenseless players for 2013.

“People are going to have to really look at that, whether it’s on kickoff return or punt return,” Boise State special teams coach Scott Huff said. “We’re definitely going to have to be really smart there. We’ve got to do a good job educating them — and we’ve already started with that.”

The Broncos have a history of delivering devastating blocks on kick returns. They even started an award — the Hammer — to honor the biggest hit on special teams.

The wording was changed in the last couple years to give the Hammer to the guy who makes the “best special teams play.”

Still, the emphasis — as the award implies — is on physicality. Hard-hitting junior linebacker Blake Renaud won the Hammer four times last year and has collected it six times in his career.

“I’m very aware (of the rule),” he said. “We’ve had meetings. They’ve told me I can’t do that, so I’ll try not to. … We’re still going to be physical. Coaches are telling us we’re not losing aggression. We’re just being smarter about where we hit people.”

And the coaches are trying to get smarter about how they teach tackling.

Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, the defensive staff and coach Chris Petersen met with members of the Snake River Rugby Club this summer to discuss techniques. The highly successful club tackles in a sport without helmets.

“We’ve got to lower the strike zone,” Kwiatkowski said. “We’re going to emphasize sliding the head across and striking with the shoulder. Also, wrapping up.”

The pressure will be felt mostly by defensive backs like Thompson, the guys who crash into receivers at high speed in full view of the officials. Boise State defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake has tried to spin the rule as positive for his players. The rule will play a part in his drills every day, he said.

“It’s really the rule of football right now, and we’ve embraced this rule,” he said. “It’s about player safety. We don’t want these guys walking away in wheelchairs when they’re done playing college football or to have so many head injuries that they can’t function later on in life.”

He also insists that this isn’t the end of the highlight-reel hit. The NCAA video shows a nasty goal-line hit by a BYU defender that remains within the rules.

“We can still play physical football by hitting lower than the shoulders, not going to the head, and still make big-time hits and big-time splash plays,” Lake said. “That’s what we’re telling them every day.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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