When it comes to penalty yardage, it is amazing how many programs are consistent down through the years. Navy, for instance, over the last seven seasons, has never finished worse than second nationally, and has finished first five times when it comes to penalty yardage scarcity.
Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, is Texas Tech. Going back to 2008, the best the Red Raiders have done was finishing No. 96 nationally with 60.1 penalty yards per contest in 2010. Tech finished dead last in 2014 and next to last the year before. Tech’s average finishing position over the last seven years has been No. 113, which, if not the worst performance among FBS schools, is surely among them. Baylor, whose average finish is No. 107, may be Tech’s closest competitor for most penalized team over the past seven seasons.
Committing penalties in football, much like missing free throws in basketball, can be an intractable problem. Certainly Tech’s coaches have been acutely aware of the problem, and have taken steps to remedy it, but for whatever reason, were unsuccessful.
Part of the problem, no doubt, is Tech’s up-tempo offense. Because the Red Raiders play so quickly, they run more plays, which leads to more opportunities to commit penalties. Then, too, there is the simple matter of haste making waste. If you’re concentrating on moving at the speed of sound, you may not pay attention to little things such as the snap count and lining up on the line of scrimmage when you’re supposed to.
But there are also matters such as discipline and mental toughness. The service academies, whose players are accustomed to military discipline and precision, and are confronted with the very real specter of going into combat, have remarkable records regarding commission of penalties. Since 2008 no service academy team has finished lower than No. 45 in penalty yardage per game. And in 2012 Air Force finished No. 1, Navy No. 2, and Army No. 4. There is something to be said for rigid discipline and mentally tough players.
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Is there any reason to believe Texas Tech will improve dramatically in this area in the upcoming season? Could the Red Raiders average fewer than 53 penalty yards per game, which would put them in the middle of the national pack?
If we assume that experience, along with time played in a given system, should produce fewer penalties, perhaps so. Tech will be a considerably more experienced squad in 2015 than they were in 2014, and this will be Kliff Kingsbury’s third year as Tech’s head coach. These factors should help reduce penalty yardage somewhat.
Likewise, if the Red Raiders do indeed run the football more than they have in the past, as Kingsbury has said they will, this will slow the games down somewhat, which would also theoretically reduce penalty yardage.
But Tech’s longstanding history of committing bookoo penalties suggests the problem is structural, and those conditions do not change overnight. So while we should expect modest improvement with regard to penalties, it is too much to expect that the Red Raiders will reach even mediocrity in 2015?