CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Jonathan Martin and Chase Thomas are a couple of cats you probably don’t want to tick off. But that’s what the Oregon State fans did in the second quarter of Stanford's 38-13 win Saturday afternoon.
When wide receiver Chris Owusu was laying on the ground after suffering a concussion, Thomas and Martin said the Oregon State crowd was taunting Owusu -- who was put on a stretcher and in a neck brace before being transported off the field in an ambulance. Neither player disclosed what the fans were specifically saying.
“The fans were kind of rude about it and making fun of him,” Thomas said. “That lit a fire. They were yelling things that shouldn’t be said when someone is hurt on the ground like that. We took it personally.”
It hit a little too close to home for Martin, who said he did his best to brush it off.
“That’s my roommate,” Martin said. “One of my best friends. It gets to you a little bit.”
Conversely, the Oregon State player who put the hit on Owusu, Jordan Poyer, apologized to head coach David Shaw when he came on to the field to check on his wide receiver.
“He came up to me and apologized and I put my arm around him and said ‘Hey, don’t worry about, just play. Play hard, man,’” Shaw said. “It happens in this game. It’s hard. It’s a split-second decision between ducking your head and just barely missing his head or getting helmet-to-helmet. I’m not going to say it’s easy. It’s hard. But when it’s close, the officials have told us they have to call it.”
Stanford has been at the center of the illegal hit firestorm this season -- and unfortunately -- several of those plays have involved Owusu. The receiver was released from the hospital and rejoined the team after the game for the trip back to Palo Alto. But this is the third time in the last four games that Owusu has left the game and not returned after taking a vicious hit.
Four times this season a Stanford receiver has gone out for the game because of a hard hit -- three of those times it’s been Owusu and only twice was an illegal hit called despite contact above the shoulder pads. The fourth involved tight end Coby Fleener, who took a helmet-to-helmet hit against Arizona.
“It’s scary,” said Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. “It’s scary when that happens. Especially when it happens to a guy that has had it happen before. As far as the mood, it’s a tough thing. When something like that happens in the middle of a game, you just have to flush it and forget about it, as harsh as that may sound. For me, it was a little contemplative. You start thinking a little bit. First thoughts are ‘Please be OK, Chris, please be OK.’ It’s a tough thing, but you have to sort of forget about those things in a game as harsh as that may sound.”
Shaw did not rule Owusu out for Saturday’s big showdown against Oregon -- though it seems unlikely that after sustaining his second concussion in 21 days he’d be back on the field. This is at least the third concussion for Owusu in the last 13 months.
“There are a lot of checks he’s got to pass in order to get back on the field and we’re going to make sure he passes all of those before he plays,” Shaw said. “With concussions, they’re fickle. They change. He had one a couple of weeks ago and gosh, by Monday he was great. He still hadn’t passed all the tests yet but he felt great. So we will be overly cautions. I’ll tell you that. We’ll be overly cautious with Chris Owusu.”
The hit by Poyer came at a critical juncture of the game. Owusu fumbled after the reception and it was returned for a touchdown -- but Poyer was flagged for an illegal hit which negated the play. Rather than the score being tied 14-14 in the second quarter, the Cardinal added a field goal to go up 17-7 at the break.
Owusu was involved in an illegal hit last week against USC that drew a flag on a critical third down late in the game that kept Stanford’s drive alive. USC safety T.J. McDonald was penalized and then suspended half a game by the Pac-12 conference. According to Shaw, Owusu did not have a concussion as a result of that hit.
“We’ve heard from all of the officials and the NCAA and our conference -- if it’s close, they are going to call it,” Shaw said. “And I don’t think that one was close. They have to call it. In order for us to make this game as safe as we can be, when it’s going to be close, we have to call that so we can teach our guys how to make tackles. Not so high, not close to the head, so this game can be as safe as it can be so they have to make that call.”