Vontaze Burfcit has been the focus of Arizona State football, since he spurned his hometown USC Trojans back on national signing day in 2009. Since then, his playing style has attracted all eyes in the stadium, and those wearing officiating uniforms.
Burfict plays the game with a physical, emotional, ferocious, hard-hitting style necessary by any elite middle linebacker, but sometimes No. 7 gets carried away.
The first time Burfict was on the national stage, he had tons to prove. Highlight reel tackles, sacks, and bone-crushing hits against lower tier squads pad the stats, but game-changing players elevate their game to their opponent's level.
In 2009, Vontaze Burfcit wanted to prove that he was worthy of the five star ranking by every recruiting service in the country. The opponent Burfict lined up against was the Georgia Bulldogs, and even back then, the referees nearly decided the game.
As the rain came pouring down, and the score was closer than any imagined, Burfict was at the center of it all. Whenever a big play was needed, Burfict was there to make the play and keep the game close.
Then, on a very memorable fourth down and less than one yard, Vontaze Burfict ran into the umpire as Georgia raced to the line of scrimmage to snap the ball quickly.
The Southeastern Conference umpire threw a flag on Burfict, but was later talked out of an automatic first down call by other officials.
Burfict did nothing wrong in that instance, but for some reason from that moment on, Burfict has been targeted by officiating crews across the country.
Sometimes his punishing hits warrant a personal foul call, in other cases fans, coaches, and fellow players are left scratching their heads.
Even during national broadcasts, or even regional broadcasts, the play-by-play crew takes it upon themselves to mention Burfict's "bad rap," while running through the starting lineups.
So, before the players on the field have settled into the game, the announcers are pointing out Burfict's "flaws" and setbacks.
If the announcers are making it clear that Burfict is a "dirty" player, than the officials are certainly aware of his playing style.
Erickson said in reference to a penalty on Burfict following the Stanford loss Saturday night, "The only problem I have is when the guy makes a call and can't really see it."
Well, the officials have "seen it" before, so they keep calling it on Burfict.
Since Erickson benched Burfict for the first quarter of the Washington game this season, his defensive play has been admirable.
Although, he has still been flagged for "late hits" and "facemask" penalties, each time, Burfict has been called on "bang-bang" plays.
The rule is to play until the whistle, and sometimes officials let the battles continue past the whistle. However, when Burfict is involved, he has no gray area with any officiating crew.
Just last week against USC, Burfict was flagged for a late hit in the fourth quarter. I was in the crowd, on the same side of the field as the penalty, and once again, Burfict was given no flexibility.
"In the heat of the game, you have to have some flexibility with a player," Erickson said following the Stanford loss.
Burfict has no grey area, no flexibility, and no wiggle room with the zebras. Not even once.
In a game where Burfict made almost every big play when called upon, he was also flagged three times on Stanford's game winning drive.
First, a defensive holding call was made, when Burfict dropped into coverage matching up with Cardinal tight end Konrad Reuland. As ASU safety Eddie Elder came up with a clutch interception, a flag was sitting on Frank Kush Field directly next to Vontaze Burfict.
The defense swallowed their pride, tossed the football to the officials, and went back to work.
Then, with Stanford driving just across midfield, Burfict was flagged again for a "facemask" penalty. The call was not needed, and rightfully so, Burfict let the officials know that they made a mistake.
I have been on the sidelines of every single Pac-10 stadium, and have heard banter back and forth between players and officials. Sometimes words slip, emotions get elevated, and phrases are voiced that might get your mouth washed out with soap.
However, officials normally walk away, and let it go. That is not the case with Vontaze Burfict. Now, I was not within earshot of Burfict during this sequence, but I doubt whatever he said was so harmful that Stanford should be awarded the ball at the seven-yard-line.
Keep in mind, before this penalty sequence Stanford was struggling to penetrate ASU's defense. Andrew Luck, Stanford's quarterback took the previous snap from the 35-yard line.
To give an opponent 28 yards on penalties for an alleged facemasking penalty, and a "running your mouth" call is pathetic.
This is in fact college football, and late in the fourth quarter of an extremely physical, hard-hitting contest, a sequence of horrendous calls cannot be made, unless someone actually sees the penalty take place.
Seems pretty simple, but apparently, that is harder to do than many believe.
After Burfict's freshman season where he was named to numerous All-American lists and awarded Pac-10 defensive freshman player of the year, the talk was still about his penalties.
Burfict was even flagged 15 yards on a "leaping" penalty versus Stanford in 2009. That call was made on a routine field goal attempt, and it seems the referees will seek out any flaw in his game, at any point in the contest.
Sometimes, umpires in baseball hold grudges against certain baseball players, whether they are old veterans, or uncertain rookies.
In the college football landscape, that perception might be transforming to the gridiron as well.
Burfict might be the most exciting defensive player in the conference, but if the referees are going to continually handcuff his intensity, even when he plays "flawlessly", the dismal results are going to continue for ASU.
Dennis Erickson's Sun Devils are now 4-6, and the last two games that ASU lost, can be attributed to grey area penalty flags called on Burfict. However, I do not blame Burfict for the flags.
Against USC, he was pursuing the play and put his shoulder into a blocker, just as the whistle was blowing. Of course he was flagged, and 15 yards were added on. Later that drive, USC kicked the game winning field goal.
The Stanford story has almost been beaten to death, but to be flagged three times in one drive, is a little much. Sometimes, the players on the field should decide the contest. Lately, the zebras with yellow flags have become the judge in close battles.
Has Vontaze Burfict done anything over the top to force officials to watch his every move? From freshman year, Burfict had a three penalty performance against the Washington Huskies that became the catalyst for every personal foul call in recent memory.
Earlier this season, Burfict "tapped" Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz's helmet, but did not receive a penalty. Katz is from Santa Monica, which is near Hollywood, so the acting job that followed was worthy of atleast a Daytime Emmy Award.
That action by Burfict is the reason for the increased attention this season, and as Erickson stated, "If you built the house, now you have to live in it."
However, it does not help that each time his house is clean, calm, and orderly, the referees jump in and ransack his home, and disrupt any progression by Burfict.
Although, the referees don't just disrupt the flow of the game, and Burfict, the actions the referees take against Burfict come down hard on the Sun Devils like an earthquake.
"He played that game flawlessly until that last deal, and then all of a sudden there's a flag on a 15-yard penalty that he didn't commit," Erickson said.
The penalties called against Burfict not only hurt the middle linebacker's already brutal reputation, but the calls also left the Sun Devils in a tough situation against one of the best teams in the country.
In the end, Stanford and the zebras earned the victory. On the other hand, the Sun Devils were once again left pondering, "what could have been?"
Although, maybe that question should be offered up to the Pac-10 officiating crew from Saturday night's loss to Stanford.
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