Foul or fair? Ref takes heat for hit USC Quarterback Garcia

Wilbur Hackett Jr. had his share of big tackles of SEC quarterbacks in his day, but none generated the buzz of Hackett’s hit on South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia.

Hackett was the umpire who collided with Garcia at LSU’s 5-yard line Saturday in the second quarter of the Tigers’ 24-17 win. Garcia was scrambling to his left when he cut back and ran into Hackett, who slowed Garcia before Tigers safety Curtis Jackson finished the tackle.

Being in the middle of a play is nothing new for Hackett, who was a Parade All-American at his Louisville, Ky., high school and a three-year starter at linebacker for Kentucky from 1968-70.

Replays of the collision, in which Hackett appears to lower his right shoulder and strike Garcia with his forearm, have made the rounds the past two days on ESPN, YouTube and college football blogs.

Many TV analysts and sports-talk radio hosts said it looked like Hackett’s hit was intentional.

But the SEC office believes Hackett was protecting himself and plans to take no disciplinary action on the veteran official. Rogers Redding, the conference’s coordinator of football officials, reviewed the tape of the play and thought it was inadvertent contact.

“Garcia changes his direction just a tad, which ties up the umpire just a tad and makes it look a lot worse than it really was,” SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said.

“The umpire position amongst the officiating crew lends itself to more contact than any other official on the field. … We feel there was nothing else that needs to be read into it and it was a collision between a player and an official.”

Three plays later, USC scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis to take a 17-10 lead just before halftime.

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