Combating Penalties with Experience

UNC tied the single-season school record for penalties with 99 in 2014.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina is counting on its vast experience, which includes 18 starters and 351 career starts, to reverse a troublesome penalty trend that’s plagued Larry Fedora’s head coaching career.

In 2014, the Tar Heels tied the single-season school record for penalties with 99. A year earlier, UNC set the single-season school record with 831 penalty yards.

Those types of penalty statistics have become the norm rather than the exception during Fedora’s seven years as a head coach.

Year Record Penalties/Penalties Per Game Conference Rank Penalty Yards Per Game Conference Rank
2008 (USM) 7-6 99/7.6 12 (109/111) 75.2 12 (118)
2009 (USM) 7-6 101/7.8 12 (111/108) 70.3 12 (114)
2010 (USM) 8-5 97/7.5 11 (106/104) 71.2 12 (116)
2011 (USM) 12-2 109/7.8 12 (120/115) 63.9 12 (105)
2012 (UNC) 8-4 90/7.5 12 (106/112) 64.3 12 (106)
2013 (UNC) 7-6 96/7.4 13 (116/112) 63.9 14 (111)
2014 (UNC) 6-7 99/7.6 14 (113/113) 63.2 13 (107)
* National ranking in parentheses

While Fedora’s up-tempo preference would seem to provide a legitimate explanation, there doesn’t appear to be a direct correlation.

For example, UNC led the league in plays run in 2014 with 1005. Georgia Tech ran 993 plays and ranked sixth in penalties (69) and fourth in penalty yards per game (41.1). Clemson ran 990 plays and actually led the ACC in penalties (52) and penalty yards per game (34.6).

In 2013, UNC ranked seventh in the ACC in plays run with 943. Only Syracuse committed more penalties (three more in 16 additional plays), but the Orange racked up fewer penalty yards.

Of the 99 penalties UNC committed in 2015, the offense was responsible for 49, which includes 30 false starts. The defense committed 32 penalties and the special teams units were flagged 18 times.

The defense actually cut down on its penalties as the season progressed, drawing just nine flags over the final six games. The offense committed 21 penalties over the same span.

“Any time you get penalized, you’re setting yourself behind the chains and it’s always hard to overcome those penalties,” assistant head coach for offense Seth Littrell said on Wednesday. “Penalties are going to happen. Hopefully we go through a game penalty-free, but you never see it. Game in and game out, there’s going to be penalties and it’s how do you overcome that adversity. We need to eliminate those penalties and make sure we’re not starting behind the chains.”

The Tar Heels have apparently done just that during training camp. With a veteran roster loaded with experience, the daily visits by a referee crew have gone by the wayside.

“I think experience helps some because when you put yourself in the proper position, you’ve got a less likelihood to do something [like] holding and all of those things,” Fedora said. “It’s usually when you get out of position, so when you know what you’re doing and you can put yourself in the right position, you’re not going to have those kinds of penalties.”

The coaching staff addresses penalties by conventional methods such as sprints and a random assortment of other punishments. Those reprimands have been reduced significantly, according to senior right guard Landon Turner.

“It’s actually amazing to me the difference between this camp and last year’s camp as far as the lack of penalties,” Turner said. “Even in the scrimmages, it’s way less than half. That first week there were a lot of guys jumping offsides because it had been a while since they’ve played, but I could probably count on one hand how many times we’ve jumped offside since.”

UNC is 3-8 over the past two seasons when committing eight or more penalties in a game and 7-9 during Fedora’s tenure in Chapel Hill.

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