FOOTBALL PENALTIES: What do They Really Mean?

Ugly Duckling Editorials

On December 13th, 2018, Bri Amaranthus over at NBC Sports Northwest wrote a great article entitled, “Can you guess the most penalized team in the nation? It’s not Oregon football.” Her article teases because last year in 2017, Oregon led the nation with over nine penalties per game. This year, Cristobal has cut them close to in half at around five penalties per game.

The whopper of the article, though, may not come as a surprise to Duck fans when Amaranthus shares with us the name of the coach that led the nation in penalties this year: it was none other than Willie Taggart at Florida State. (I believe that the commentator DucksInOrder has previously posted on this in the comments section at weeks ago.)

Kevin Cline

Coach Mario Cristobal was not always pleased with Pac-12 Officials.

Pop Quiz One: think of all the coaches in the PAC-12, which coach do you think had the least penalized team in the conference? (Below for the answer.)

Pop Quiz Two: if you were to combine the win-loss records of the Top 12 teams that were least penalized across all of college football, would you guess their combined records would result in a winning record or losing record?

So the answer to the second one surprised me. Of those top 12 teams, only four had winning records (the best at 8-5, Northwestern, the No. 1 least penalized team in the country at around three penalties per game); all the others were at .500 or had losing records. The combined record for the 12 teams was 65-82, a losing indicator. A number of those coaches will lose their jobs.

Here are the rankings for PAC-12 teams (plus one) in Penalties per Game Average in 2018. Washington leads the PAC-12 as the least penalized team with 4.8 penalties per game, and UW is ranked No. 21 in the nation for least penalties:

Clay Helton has more to worry about than penalties…

4.8 Washington (Chris Petersen) No. 21

5.2 Utah (Kyle Whittingham) No. 33

5.3 Oregon (Mario Cristobal) No. 35

5.5 Stanford (David Shaw) No. 45

5.6 Oregon State (Jonathan Smith) No. 49

5.9 California (Josh Wilcox) No. 58

5.9 Colorado (Mike MacIntyre) No. 61

6.3 Arizona State (Herm Edwards) No 71

6.7 Washington State (Mike Leach) No. 87

6.8 UCLA (Chip Kelly) No. 91

7.9 Arizona (Kevin Sumlin) No. 119

8.0 USC (Clay Helton) No. 122

9.2 Florida State (Willie Taggart) No. 130

Penalties don’t tell the full story: Penalties are an indicator that have to be combined with other insights about a coach, an offensive or defensive scheme, huddling or tempo, and also a team culture.

What I’d like you to help me flesh out is: what do penalties this year indicate about the present and future of the Oregon Ducks, if anything? First, here is some context for Duck fans:

A Sampling of Oregon Coaches and penalties per game from the past:

2010 7.2 pen/game Chip Kelly (12-1) No. 101 in the nation

2014 8.2 pen/game Mark Helfrich (13-2) No. 119 in the nation

2016 8.3 pen/game Mark Helfrich (4-8) No. 126 in the nation

2017 9.4 pen/game Willie Taggart (7-5) No. 130 in the nation

2018 5.3 pen/game Mario Cristobal (8-4) No. 35 in the nation

Scott Frost

Talk about Penalties: If Taggart’s teams have led the nation in penalties for both 2017 and 2018 at different school and different leagues, what does that say? Could you make the argument that he’s a first-year coach at a new college and implementing a new system?

This year at Nebraska as a first-year coach, Scott Frost‘s team was the No. 110 out of 130 most penalized team in the country at 7.7 penalties/game. (At UCF last year, Frost averaged 8.4 penalties per game and ranked 127 out of 130 in the country on an undefeated team that went 13-0.)

When a coach comes in and cuts the penalties in half, does it mean anything? What do you have to consider? Do penalties and discipline correspond?

Take a look at USC and Clay Helton. Consider their scheme and culture. Does it tell you anything about the USC that a Helton-led team is No. 122 out of 130 in the country in penalties? Does having a lot of penalties really matter? For the two years the Ducks were in the National Championship game, the Duck teams were the No. 101 and No. 119 ranked in most penalized teams in the country. Can you recommend a better statistic to consider?

Share your thoughts about Oregon football, about college football or other sports, and if you have a funny story about a penalty you have had in the past in football or another sport, re-live the grief and pain here on with a crowd that might actually laugh at your expense.

Ugly Duckling
Somewhere in Oregon

DEC 31, HOLIDAY BOWL at 4:00 PM. When we watch the Holiday Bowl this year, Kyle Whittingham’s UTAH (9-4) team against Pat Fitzgerald’s NORTHWESTERN (8-5), we will be watching the least penalized team in the country in Northwestern (2.8 penalties per game) against the 33rd least penalized team in the country (Utah, 5.2 penalties per game).



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