Penalty glut a concern for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN - To say that West Virginia's football team has a penalty problem is probably a stretch.
After all, while the Mountaineers don't rank very highly in the NCAA's rankings of fewest penalties (No. 74) or fewest yards penalized (No. 78), it's not as if that's downright awful. If they cut out just one 15-yard penalty per game they would rank in the top 25 in fewest yards penalized, and eliminating just two flags per game would put them close to the top 10 in fewest penalties.
In other words, there's not that big a difference between the very best and those in the middle, which is where West Virginia is.
Oh, and it's not as if the Mountaineers don't have some pretty good company, either. Take a look at the list of the country's least penalized teams and tied with WVU at No. 74 is No. 1 LSU, just ahead of No. 6 Arkansas and No. 11 Houston.
How much does penalty rank mean? Well, Boston College and Maryland are among the five least-penalized teams in the country and are a combined 5-15. Oregon and Southern Miss are among the 15 most-penalized teams and are a combined 18-2.
Still, after West Virginia was flagged 14 times in a win at Cincinnati a week ago, it raised more questions than the one Geno Smith asked - and was later reprimanded for - about the Mountaineers getting the short end of the officiating stick. The truth is, the numbers are virtually identical for WVU and its opponents this season. WVU has been penalized 64 times for 558 yards and its opponents 63 times for 533 yards.
But what about those 14 penalties in one game?
"I don't know what our biggest penalty total was before Saturday, but it wasn't 14. I think they even declined a few,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We've dissected each one of them. Some of it's playing on the edge a little bit. We want them to play on the edge and encourage them to play on the edge. I think that's been a difference for us being able to win or not. We cut loose, we played on the edge a little bit to increase our energy and excitement level, but you've got to be able to control that. A few of the times that we got flagged was a result of that.''
That would generally explain the occasional personal foul penalty and perhaps even a few procedure or offsides calls - players being overaggressive or too quick to get going.
Others, though, were simply poor plays, either on the field or the sidelines.
"The holding calls are just bad technique,'' Holgorsen said. "There's not a difference between having bad technique and getting beat - it's the same thing. It's technique. If you're getting whipped, then your only chance is to play with 100 percent proper technique. We were getting whipped, and we lost our technique.''
Perhaps most disturbing were delay of game penalties. One was called on a punt and another was avoided by a timeout before a punt. That has very little to do with technique or even with the players on the field.
"The delay of game penalties are a lack of communication. I take responsibility for that,'' Holgorsen said. "It's just communication on the sidelines. I thought we had done a pretty good job with that this year.''
Holgorsen tried to explain the issues involved with special teams from a coaching standpoint - coaches on the sidelines and those in the press box trying to stay on the same page. But in the end, those are just logistical matters, the kind that are is the responsibility of the head coach to address.
Holgorsen admitted as much.
"You have to have an understanding of who's coaching what and who's making decisions. That's where the lack of communication comes from,'' Holgorsen said. "Coach [Steve] Dunlap [who is in charge of the punt team] is upstairs and we've got to rely on people on the field to get it communicated. You also have to rely on Coach [Daron] Roberts, who's talking to him, and at the same time talking to me, trying to figure out what the decision is. Sometimes we try to make a decision, get them out there, and we're too late.
"That's 100 percent on me. We'll make sure that we get that tightened up. There have been a couple of times that we've done it on purpose. You don't want to rush out there and make a bad decision. You don't want to rush it to the point that you don't execute it properly. Some of it's making decisions, some of it's communication, some of it's our headset not being on at the right time, or the button not being pushed properly. There are all kinds of dynamics. I'm not searching for excuses, and I'm actually kind of upset with myself for talking about them. Ultimately, it's on me, and we'll get it fixed.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.