Lake: “Don’t lead with your helmet and don’t hit anybody in the helmet. There’s no gray area. I think it’s a bunch of excuses for defensive coaches that are whiners and complainers."

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As Washington’s co-defensive coordinator, Jimmy Lake takes pride the aggressive, physical brand of play has that come to define the UW defense the past few years. And he will celebrate a big hit as much as anyone — as long as the hit is a clean one.

When it comes to safe-tackling techniques — and the NCAA’s targeting rule — Lake has strong feelings.

“I get frustrated with the coaches who whine about (the targeting rule),” Lake said Tuesday.
“Don’t whine about it. You want to watch football 100 years from now? We can’t lead with our helmet.”

The topic of targeting was broached again after two UW players were initially flagged for the personal-foul penalty in Friday’s loss at Stanford. After an automatic review by replay officials, the targeting calls against Austin Joyner and Jojo McIntosh were reversed. They remained in the game.

Lake says he had no issues with the tackles and no issues with the official’s initial calls on those plays.

“It’s textbook. It’s perfect,” he said. “I think football fans maybe get frustrated with it — I thought it was awesome. We teach our guys to (tackle) low, in the strike zone, not to lead with the helmet. And that’s what we all need to be teaching, so we’re still watching football 50 years from now. So it was awesome.

“The refs should call it if they think it’s close. And then they went and reviewed it and it wasn’t a foul.”

Joyner was initially flagged for his hit on Stanford’s Connor Wedington, who had dropped his head at the last moment. Joyner, diving at Wedington’s legs, made contact with his right shoulder to Wedington’s helmet.

UW coach Chris Petersen, on his radio show Monday, went so far as to suggest Wedington is the one who should have been called for targeting, because he led with the crown of his helmet.

“I went at thigh height,” Joyner said. “I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to do.”

The Huskies haven’t had a player ejected for targeting this year. They didn’t have one last year, either. They credit that to the rugby-style tackling UW coaches have been teaching since 2014.

“The biggest thing is it’s more efficient,” Joyner said. “That’s the No. 1 reason you want to switch to (rugby tackling). It’s a better way to tackle. But on top of that, it keeps us all safe. I’m happy we switched to it and they really forced us to learn these methods.”

The targeting rule has its critics. Many coaches, from the Pac-12 and throughout the country, have voiced their frustration with it, particularly since 2013 when the NCAA attached an automatic ejection to each targeting foul.

“It’s a stupid rule, it’s a really stupid rule,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said last week. “I think it’s far too difficult to call and I think there’s a real inexactness to calling it and I think they need to get rid of it.”

For the record, Washington State hasn’t had a player ejected from a targeting penalty this year either, according to The Spokesman-Review. Utah, which travels to Husky Stadium on Saturday, has had five players ejected for targeting this season.

“We’re constantly looking for clarity on that,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told The Salt Lake Tribune, adding: “Really, it’s still a point of frustration. I think maybe in the future you’ll see things defined a little bit more clearly. Until then, I’m really kind of finished commenting on targeting because it’s such a frustrating issue. We’re doing our best to try and comply.”

Lake says he doesn’t see any gray area in the rule.

“Don’t lead with your helmet and don’t hit anybody in the helmet,” he said. “There’s no gray area. I think it’s a bunch of excuses for defensive coaches that are whiners and complainers. Get this thing right. If watch our defense, we tackle the right way.

“I wish the NFL would do it, because that’s where everyone sees it, on Sunday. I’m looking at (NFL games) going, ‘That guy should get thrown out.’ That’s where all this CTE stuff, leading with the helmet — that stuff needs to be out of the game. When you watch us — we’re one of the better tackling teams in the country and we don’t lead with our helmet.”