FROM PULLMAN - Before Saturday's game, I spent some time catching up with Vince Grippi. We talked about life and football, of course, then went our separate ways to get some work done. A bit later, I ran into him again, just moments after watching Tulane defensive back Devon Walker leave with a scary head injury,
Walker crumpled in a heap after going helmet-to-helmet with one of his own teammates. He was unconscious, and paramedics were performing CPR on him shortly after the impact. It was bad, to say the very least -- an incredibly sobering situation.
I bring up the conversation with Vince because it became relevant in the fourth quarter, in a way. We talked about tackling, and how eventually football is going to reach a breaking point with all these knockout blows that leave lasting impacts. Players are going for the kill shot, and basic tackling form seems to have gone out the window. It's create a dangerous situation where players are using their heads and helmets as a weapon on the field, subconsciously or not.
With that in mind, watch Deone Bucannon's hit in the fourth quarter again.
This was ... bad. In fact, bad is understating it. It was about as bad as you can get. Not only was it late, but he also went high on a defenseless receiver. He was going for the knockout blow -- maybe not in the traditional sense, but to remind receivers not to go over the middle and, perhaps, knock the ball free.
I had requested Bucannon early in the fourth quarter because he had a pretty solid game, but the hit changed the whole narrative. To his credit, he was forthcoming about it, and actually explained his thought process when it comes to delivering a blow.
"My momentum was going that way and he was right there," Bucannon said. "I wasn't sure if he caught the ball or not. I tried to pull up a little bit, but I ended up hitting him high."
He sheepishly looked down and said "I think I got him right above the head."
As a safety, Bucannon finds himself in a difficult spot. He's there to punish players coming over the middle while also providing a last line of defense. Because he's roaming, he's going to have opportunities to deliver a blow. But he has to do it in a smart way.
"It's definitely hard ... difficult. Especially being a safety," Bucannon said. "Still, subconsciously, when you're out there playing running around as fast as you can, trying to make plays, it's hard to consciously think 'You know, let's try to hit him in the stomach area.'"
And to his credit, he owned the mistake, saying "That's still my fault and I should be more focused on the field and I should abide by the rules."
The Deone Bucannon most see is the guy laying some pretty big hits on the field. And that creates a persona: His play brings to mind a guy with an attitude; a kill or be killed mentality.
That's not Deone Bucannon. He's quiet off the field, and always comes across as well-mannered and respectful. And he's honest, speaking in detail about his mistakes and shortcomings on the field.
I'm inclined to give him a pass for the hit after spending some time talking to him. Was it a significant mental lapse? Absolutely, and he owned that. I believe him when he says it was a mental lapse -- watching the play repeatedly gives me the impression he just wasn't thinking and lost focus for a moment. And I believe the he felt bad about the hit.
I'd expect Bucannon to learn from this, because it was that bad. He very nearly cost his team the game, all because he lost focus at a pivotal moment. And the hit was incredibly dangerous -- the type of thing that could end a career.
The bigger issue at play remains the kill-shot mentality and the long-lasting effects one bad hit can have. After seeing multiple players go down with serious head injuries, I still don't know how the problem can be solved -- or if it can. Seeing a player collapse earlier in the day, then seeing Bucannon's hit later hammered the point home.
He'll learn from it, because that's what he does, but Bucannon's hit was costly in quite a few ways. And it put a pretty dark cloud over the day he had, which was otherwise quite good.