Pac-12 says Porter Gustin's controversial hit on Gardner Minshew was not targeting

USC linebacker Porter Gustin has been involved in a few controversial plays this season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
USC linebacker Porter Gustin has been involved in a few controversial plays this season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The hit USC linebacker Porter Gustin delivered to Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew last Friday was not deemed targeting during the game. And, after another look by the league office, the hit was again determined to not be targeting, according to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.

Late in the Trojans’ 39-36 win, Gustin, who was suspended for the game’s first half because of a targeting penalty called against him in the Texas game, made helmet-to-helmet contact with Minshew as he delivered a pass downfield. No flag was thrown.

Here is a clip of the play:

Scott told the Associated Press that the play was examined by replay officials in attendance at the Coliseum that night. Officials at Pac-12 headquarters in San Francisco did the same. He said it was “very, very close” to being targeting.

From the AP:

“So you can certainly assume that play got a lot of looks, not just from the replay booth at the stadium, but we’ve got our command center back in San Francisco with our head of officiating and a bunch of experienced replay guys, who absolutely would have looked at that play,” Scott said said.

He said it also was looked at afterward and it was not determined to be targeting.

“As you know, in any given game there are a lot of close calls, and this was a very, very close one. No doubt about it,” Scott said.

When reached by Yahoo Sports via email on Wednesday, a Pac-12 spokesman said the conference does not comment on “judgment calls.”

“Conference protocol is to review plays on Monday and as a matter of policy we do not comment on judgment calls,” the spokesman said.

How does the NCAA define targeting?

Targeting has been controversial since it was introduced in college football. The rule, in its simplest form, is presented like this in the NCAA rule book: “No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of his helmet.”

Also: “Targeting means that a player takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball.”

From there, it says targeting “requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting.” Some indicators are as follows:

Launch — a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make forcible contact in the head or neck area

A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area, even though one or both feet are still on the ground.

Leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area.

Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet.

The first and third indicator above seem to be evident in Gustin’s hit on Minshew.

The rule book also notes that targeting occurs when a player makes forcible contact to the head or neck area of a “defenseless opponent” with the helmet, forearm hand, first, elbow or shoulder. The first example of a defenseless player listed in the NCAA rule book is “a player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.”

Minshew had just thrown a pass when Gustin hit him.

By comparison, this hit from Gustin on Texas QB Sam Ehlinger was ruled targeting in a game officiated by a Pac-12 crew:

Mike Leach’s reaction

Washington State coach Mike Leach was asked about the hit on Minshew earlier this week. He did not want to get into it — “I’m not allowed to comment on it,” he said — mostly to avoid being fined.

“Anything we do in this conference, player safety should be the forefront of our concerns,” Leach said per the Spokesman Review.

Asked about the officiating as a whole from the game — WSU was called for 11 penalties — Leach said this, via the Spokesman Review:

“I respectfully decline to comment on the grounds that I may be incriminated and get a $10,000 fine,” he said. “It was so mixed I can’t entirely say what their position was because it varied a little bit. But as far as any specifics beyond that, you’ll have to call them and ask them.”

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