The USC Trojans and Pac-12 officials have suddenly gotten very well acquainted in the days since the team's triple-overtime loss to Stanford.
We've already told you that Lane Kiffin got tagged with a $10,000 fine and a reprimand for saying conference officials had "lied" to him at game's end, but he wasn't the only Trojan target from Larry Scott's office Monday: safety T.J. McDonald was also hit with a half-game suspension for a late hit against "defenseless" Cardinal receiver Chris Owusu.
McDonald will miss the first and second quarters of the Trojans' game this Friday at struggling Colorado. Scott issued a statementwith the following explanation:
“While Mr. McDonald was appropriately penalized on the field, I have deemed it necessary to add a a half-game suspension ... This process was part of our weekly review of all targeting and unnecessary roughness hits.”Kiffin, naturally, disagreed:
“Mr. McDonald had been previously warned about illegal hits above the shoulders on defenseless opponents. In order to protect our student-athletes, it is imperative that we enforce these penalties for the safety of the game."
"He made a bang-bang play and his intent was not to hurt the receiver or launch his body at the receiver or lead with his helmet. If you watch the hit in real time, we feel it is impossible to competitively play that play any differently.For his part, McDonald said he "accept(s) my penalty" and apologized to both Stanford and his own team. But before you dismiss Kiffin's complaint as more generalized whining about the officials ... consider that he might actually be right in this case. Here's the play in question:
"T.J. is a tremendous player and leader for our team, and he has our full support. I know he felt badly about being penalized and the impact it had in the game."
It's a rough hit, and despite the gripes from Trojan fans, it's not fair to ask the officials to keep their flags in their pockets after seeing something that violent in real-time. But an after-the-fact suspension? That we'll disagree with, since:
1. McDonald is clearly leading with his shoulder rather than his helmet, which is even turned away from the impact rather than taking McDonald into it
2. McDonald makes contact with Owusu's head not because that's where he's aiming, but because Owusu sinks towards his knees in an effort to catch the ball; if he had stayed upright, McDonald likely would have hit him in the chest
3. While it's easy to tell that the ball has gotten away from Owusu on the replay, we have serious doubts McDonald had any chance of pulling up in the split-second between the ball's arrival and its bouncing away (heck, even Owusu is still futilely trying to make the catch as McDonald arrives).
The bottom line: we don't know, really, what Scott wants McDonald to do. If Owusu had been able to catch the ball, McDonald's hit might have dislodged the ball and been credited as a great play ... but because Owusu can't quite come up with it and lowers his head into McDonald's hit, now it's suspension-worthy?
Frankly, it seems the reason McDonald has been suspended isn't the hit as much as it is that he's T.J. McDonald ... who, as Scott accurately points out, has had a healthy share of personal foul penalties already this season. And if McDonald had committed another cut-and-dry late hit, the worthy aim of protecting the players who play college football would indeed require a suspension.
But this wasn't cut-and-dry. This wasn't that kind of hit. And as much as we applaud Scott's efforts to make the Pac-12's defenders think twice about going headhunting, this wasn't the right place or the right play to make that stand.