By Michael Kinney
CNHI News Service
NORMAN — The game had been over for close to an hour, and coach Mike Stoops was still perplexed. The Sooners’ defensive coordinator couldn’t explain why safety Gabe Lynn was called for targeting in the first half of Oklahoma’s 51-21 win over Tulsa.
“I thought he hit him clean with his shoulder,” Stoops said. “I don’t understand why that’s a foul. That’s what he’s taught to do. It’s an overreaction to all this. And that’s what you’re afraid of as coaches, players. They are scared. That’s what we teach them, to go low. Maybe he targeted too high.”
Late in the first quarter, the Golden Hurricane had driven down the field deep into Oklahoma territory. On third, Lynn smashed Tulsa running back Trey Watts in the end zone to prevent a touchdown.
However, Lynn was flagged for targeting and by rule was thrown out of the games and assessed a 15-yard penalty. Also by rule, the play was reviewed and it was deemed Lynn didn’t hit Franks with his helmet but with his shoulder pads.
The ejection was overturned, but the 15-yard penalty stayed in place and Tulsa had first and goal at the Sooners’ 6-yard line. Two plays later Watts scored to close Oklahoma’s lead to 10-7.
“That was very disappointing,” Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper said. “Especially for the defensive line. We didn’t get enough push. Right there that was basically on us. I felt like the referee made a good call at first. He just didn’t notice that he made the play with his shoulder, not his helmet. “
The touchdown ended up being meaningless in the fact the Sooners still won by 31 points. However, the play itself in which Lynn was called for targeting, could have further reaching effects on the team.
“I feel like it makes us hesitant,” the OU linebacker Corey Nelson said. “It makes us hesitant on trying to make big hits and being careful. Especially, I know us defensive guys don’t like that at all. It kind of gives the offense the upper hand.”
In three games, it was the first time the Sooners had been called for targeting this season. So it was also the first time they got to see the rule applied first hand. It’s not something they are too happy about.
“I felt like it wasn’t a good call,” linebacker Frank Shannon said. “I feel like that targeting rule is getting stretched out of proportion. Every time somebody hits someone, they are looking for targeting. They are taking the fun out of the game. That’s how the game started, with big hits. How are you going to tackle somebody with your side.”
The targeting rule was passed by the Football Rules Committee in February of this year and approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel in March. It is supposed to address concerns about players’ safety and take above-the-shoulder hits on defenseless players out of the game.
However, Stoops said it has caused more confusion than anything else.
“We know he didn’t target the guy, but he still got a 15-yard penalty for hitting the guy in the shoulder,” Stoops said. “I don’t understand that. Again, this is what happens when there is an overreaction to all this.”
Many of the Sooners consider themselves players who are capable of delivering bone-crunching big hits. But because of the possibility of being ejected from a game, it has them second guessing themselves during a play.
“It will make everybody hesitant when they are running in the for the tackle,” Franks said. “You are trying to turn to the side and hit the guy with the side of your shoulder. I think about it all the time. Especially when I am running for the running back.
“That’s all I think about. Don’t hit him with my head. You just have to pull your trigger, like our coaches say. Don’t worry about it though. You can’t think about it too much. But you still have to think about it because if you do it, you’re going to get kicked out of the game.”