Beavers review hits on the field, prepare for Cal

<p>Oregon State's Anthony Watkins (3) and Lance Mitchell (10) wrap up Stanford's Tyler Gaffney (25) in the first half of an NCAA football game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011.</p>

CORVALLIS — For a moment, it appeared Jordan Poyer had made the play that could turn the tide for Oregon State.

But officials ruled the junior cornerback’s hit on Stanford’s Chris Owusu was illegal helmet-to-helmet contact. Poyer had forced a fumble and ran the ball into the end zone, but the play came back. Owusu was still on the ground and would later be diagnosed with a concussion.

“I’m not going to lie,” Poyer said. “I felt like I in no way led with the helmet.”

Whether or not the refs made the correct call, the hit on Owusu gave Oregon State something to address this week with its players. With the Beavers already out of a possible postseason bid, the young team can learn from these situations as it prepares for the future — and helmet-to-helmet contact is something that has rightfully gotten increased attention.

Oregon State coach Mike Riley sent a tape of the play into the Pac-12 Conference offices for review. The Beavers believed that Poyer had hit Owusu with his shoulder pad and that any helmet contact was secondary and inadvertent.

It happened in the second quarter with Oregon State down 14-7 to the then-No. 4 Cardinal last Saturday. The Beavers would go on to lose 38-13.

After league officials reviewed the tape, an answer came back Monday.

“There is a real emphasis on (protecting players),” Riley summarized. “Any time it is determined a player is leading with his head there is going to be a penalty.”

The reason for this emphasis is obvious. Inadvertent or not, Poyer’s hit left Owusu motionless on the ground. Several tense minutes followed while Owusu was put on a stretcher and lifted into an ambulance. Poyer approached Stanford coach David Shaw to say he was sorry for Owusu’s injury.

“We took a knee, took our helmets off and prayed,” Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton said. “At that point, that’s all you can do for him.”

Diagnosed with a concussion, Owusu was back at the stadium before the end of the game. However, Shaw announced Tuesday that Owusu, a senior who has a history of concussions, will sit out this weekend’s game with No. 6 Oregon.

The NFL, NHL and college football, among others, have implemented stricter rules on hits to the head and player safety. While dizziness or memory loss is often associated with concussions, symptoms are not always easy to detect.

As a result, football players have had to change the way they tackle and coaches have had to change the way they teach tackling. Football helmets have become harder and more padded over the years to protect players’ heads. Because of this, defensive players began to use them more when making hits.

Riley said Tuesday he made modifications in tackling techniques a few years ago in response to the helmet-to-helmet rules.

“We are taught to keep our eyes up and not lead with the crown of our helmets,” Poyer said.

But that is not always easy in the course of a fluid and fast-moving game.

“What was in the old days considered a great play is now a penalty,” Riley said. He also said he believed there would be an effort in the offseason to get a better definition of what kind of hits will draw a penalty.

But if it is a close call, “if the refs see it, they are going to call it every time,” Poyer said.

Oregon State has played 22 first-time starters this season, and a school-record 10 true freshmen have seen playing time.

The Beavers (2-7, 2-4 Pac-12) visit California (5-4, 2-4) on Saturday.

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