By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — Washington State coaches aren’t happy about the illegal hit that led to the Pac-12’s suspension of starting safety Deone Bucannon for the first half of Friday’s game at UNLV.
But they have no qualms with the league’s ruling.
Bucannon will have to sit the first two quarters against UNLV after leveling a late hit to the head and neck area of Eastern Washington receiver Greg Herd late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game.
Bucannon was flagged for a personal foul and Herd was able to walk off the field under his own power, but EWU later announced that he suffered a concussion.
“It was a late hit, and I can see where action was justified,” WSU coach Mike Leach said after Tuesday’s practice. “We shouldn’t have done it. We addressed it Sunday so it’s over from here, but the Pac-12’s reaction doesn’t surprise me and it’s our fault.”
Leach said Monday that “punitive measures” were taken to ensure Bucannon, a junior, received the message.
“I think it’s an accurate call by the Pac-12 office,” defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “He’s out the first half, realizes what he did wrong and he can’t do that again. We can’t afford to lose anybody for a half, be it Deone or anyone else.”
Breske said that with Bucannon sidelined, safeties Taylor Taliulu, Tyree Toomer and Casey Locker will all play. Locker hasn’t played yet this season — his pass coverage skills need work, Breske said — but WSU hopes his toughness and tackling ability will be a strong matchup against a UNLV team that runs a conservative, run-heavy offense.
Ironically enough, Locker earned the attention of the Pac-12 office last season after a series of high hits that resulted in personal-foul penalties.
But Bucannon’s hit crossed a line, Breske said.
“It was a lot of steps before he hit him, and that wasn’t called for,” Breske said. “And we talked about that and coach Leach has visited with the whole team about that, how we’ve got to use common sense and it was a dumb penalty.”
Replays appear to show Bucannon launching himself toward Herd’s upper body well after the pass sailed by him, though the WSU safety told reporters after Saturday’s game that he tried to pull up and couldn’t.
“My momentum was going that way and he was right there,” Bucannon told reporters. “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.”
Bucannon has started 21 of 26 games played in his career.
Quarterback Jeff Tuel wore a smaller brace on his right leg at Tuesday’s practice, did some throwing in drills and jogged lightly at times, but didn’t take any snaps during 7-on-7 period or scout work.
Connor Halliday continued to take the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 offense, with David Gilbertson taking a few, too.