Penalties way down for 2015 Cougars

PULLMAN – The defense is generating turnovers and the offense has added a legitimate running game, but a less obvious development is helping shape the football fortunes at Washington State. The 4-2 Cougars have cut way back on penalties.

So far this season, WSU is averaging 5.2 penalties per game, down from 7.8 in 2014. And the lost yards stemming from them averages 41.3 per outing, down from 67.7 last season.

Bottom line, that’s a significant improvement that ranks the Cougar No. 4 in the conference for fewest penalties, up from No. 6 a year ago.

Yet Mike Leach is non-plussed about it.

“I don’t worry about them, unless they’re dumb penalties,” he says. “You’re going to get some if you’re pushing the envelope.”

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who also coaches the secondary, echoes those sentiments. “Not that we’re going to be excited with pass interference calls, but we need to be more aggressive when the ball is in the air.

“When you get them, it’s a lack of discipline,” Grinch says. “My biggest frustration is when we’ve had penalties this year, they’ve come up in key situations. That can’t happen because then you’re just beating yourself.”

Defensive line coach Joe Salave’a says self-analysis during film breakdown has helped get his troops where they need to be in regard to penalties.

“We can’t give away free plays. We’re really strict with our guys on making sure that we’re mentally in tune with not making penalties.

“You have to make sure you’re strict about penalties from day one. Normally you’re looking at extra conditioning to get that thing corrected,” he says.

But there is a balancing act between prudence and aggression.

“I’m not going to undermine anything about us. If we want to try to get to the ball we may have a few here and there,” he says. “Our whole goal up front is attack the line of scrimmage, and we need to key the ball and the man.

“We’re not going to be passive at all, and we need the players to understand that ‘if you’re late on the ball that’s on you,’” Salave’a adds.

On the offensive side of the ball, where false starts and holding can wreak havoc, Cougar line coach Clay McGuire says the ongoing focus on technique helps clean matters up. Still, he noted, perfect technique isn't possible throughout a game because some plays break down and improvisation takes over. For example, he said, against Oregon State "Joe Dahl was doing a great job blocking," but the play unexpectedly bounced to the outside "and his guy took off." Dahl's attempt to stay glued then drew a flag for holding.
br> Penalties like that don't keep McGuire awake at night. Not so with others.

"You don't like any penalties, obviously, but false starts are the most frustrating because it's just a stupid penalty," he said. "It's a dumb penalty, it's an undisciplined penalty."


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