Azeem Victor, having a breakout season as UW's new middle linebacker, is suspended for the first half against Oregon this week after a targeting call against USC.
You won’t hear the Huskies complain publicly about the targeting call against sophomore linebacker Azeem Victor in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s upset of USC.
Replays seem to show that Victor, who was ejected after the play, targeted the left shoulder of USC’s Cody Kessler, not the quarterback’s head.
It doesn’t matter now. The Pac-12 office doesn’t review targeting calls, and the Huskies (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) won’t have Victor’s services for the first half against rival Oregon (3-3, 1-2) on Saturday night at Husky Stadium (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).
What does matter is that UW is reinforcing its safe tackling techniques this week and, fair or not, Victor should be aware that officials are looking for high hits. They might be looking closer at him going forward now, too.
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“He knows he’s going to be a little bit of a marked man,” UW linebackers coach Bob Gregory said Tuesday. “And that’s just college football these days. We cannot hit the quarterback, or anybody, above the neck line. We have to target and target low. That’s just the way it is. Those are the rules. We’ve got to keep players safe.
“I think what the officials may tell you is if there’s any gray area on the head, they’re going to throw the flag,” Gregory added. “We’ve just got to make sure — there won’t be any flag if we target low.”
Last month, Cal coach Sonny Dykes asked the Pac-12 to review what he deemed to be a late hit by Victor on Cal receiver Kenny Lawler, who suffered a cut chin on the play. No flags were thrown on the play, and the Pac-12 did not address the play publicly.
Victor is having a breakout season in his first season as a starter, leading the Huskies with 48 tackles. The Compton, Calif., native was having his best game of the season against USC — 10 tackles, including two for a loss — before being ejected.
“He definitely is mad, but he knows he’s going to come back in the second half,” UW senior linebacker Travis Feeney said. “Scotty Lawyer’s going to hold it down; he’s going to do his job and then we get Azeem back in the second half and we’ll go on from there.”
Fellow sophomore linebacker Keishawn Bierria, from Carson, Calif., has been just as vital to the UW defense. He had eight tackles against USC, including two for a loss.
“They’re playing with a little bit of an edge, which is good as a defense and linebackers in particular — you’ve got to play with that kind of edge,” Gregory said. “I think it felt good for those guys to go home (to L.A.) and play in their backyard; that’s always important to kids.”
In Victor’s place, senior Scott Lawyer will make his first career start Saturday night against Oregon. True freshman Ben Burr-Kirven will also get more snaps in the first half.
“I just got to step up and do what I have to do,” Lawyer said. “I’m ready to play, and I feel like once Azeem gets back in there it’s going to be a great game. I’m just going to hold them off until he gets (in) there.”