The stat line is telling: 10 penalties for 75 yards. Even more telling, perhaps, is that Saturday’s game vs. William & Mary marked the most penalty yards racked up by the Hokies in a regular season game since Week 7 of the 2012 season, when they were flagged eight times for a total of 86 yards in their 41-20 victory over the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
|2013 Boston College||6/50|
|2013 Georgia Tech||10/69|
|2013 East Carolina||5/48|
|2013 Western Carolina||3/15|
|2012 Boston College||8/67|
|2012 Florida State||6/62|
|2012 Bowling Green||9/60|
|2012 Austin Peay||5/51|
|2012 Georgia Tech||3/15|
Even more staggering, it was the most penalty yards given up by Frank’s boys in the season opener since the Lee Suggs/DeAngelo Hall/Bryan Randall days of 2002’s 63-7 drubbing of Arkansas State.
|Season-Opening Opponent||VT Pen/Yds|
|2014 William & Mary||7/75|
|2012 Georgia Tech||3/15|
|2011 Appalachian State||4/34|
|2010 Boise State||7/55|
|2008 East Carolina||1/0|
|2007 East Carolina||4/42|
|2005 NC State||6/40|
|2002 Arkansas State||11/92|
Speaking with some Hokie folk since the final whistle was blown, I’ve heard a plethora of excuses in an effort to justify the excessive number of penalties the Hokies were called for, and it’s made me want to pull out my hair. Let’s check out my three favorite:
Excuse #1: Early-season penalties are acceptable.
Why? Have these guys never played football before? Is the criteria for a false start at the collegiate level different from one at the high school level, or in the case of a returning player, different from last season? "But, first-game jitters…" You know, maybe that’s reasonable in the case of an antsy, pumped-up true freshman. But, the guys committing our penalties weren’t our true freshmen. Let’s analyze:
|Illegal Punt Formation||Unspecified|
|Illegal Offensive Formation||Unspecified|
|Roughing the Holder||Clarke|
Call me cynical, but try as I may, I can’t think of a universe where a false start in Lane Stadium against an expectedly-inferior opponent by a redshirt senior (read: Wang), a true senior (read: Farris) or even a true junior (read: Coleman), all who have seen at least three season openers and amassed plenty of playing experience in Lane Stadium WHO KNOW THE SNAP COUNT BEFOREHAND (or if it’s a silent count, who all likely have the capability to see the football move) would ever be excusable. Nor can I think of a situation where two illegal formation penalties—one by the special teams and one by the offense in the redzone—would be understandable. These two types of penalties stem from one thing and one thing only: undisciplined play, i.e. lack of attention to detail. They’re also things you learn the first week of football practice: the correct place to line up and not to move until the ball is snapped. I think it's pretty safe to say it's not any of those guys' first week of football.
Excuse #2: Players "can’t help it".
Can’t help it? Is there a robot somewhere controlling their bodies? An inconvenient muscle spasm? True, players can’t help it when an official’s eyes deceive him and he flags an offense that didn’t occur. But, Teller’s holding penalty, Maddy’s facemask, and Clarke’s roughing the holder weren’t mysterious, mythical entities; rather, they were blatant offenses. Also keep in mind we’re talking about high-level athletes here, not high school benchwarmers. These guys are talented enough to have earned a 4-month, multi-year audition to be a professional athlete. Controlling their body is their primary function on gamedays. They can certainly "help it".
Excuse #3: It’s only because the Hokies played an FCS team.
Much like these players aren’t high-schoolers, the NCAA is not Little League. Moreover, this wasn’t even a spotlight game of national interest, a matchup between bitter rivals, or a critical game with postseason implications. It’s highly improbable that any of the officials had broken their contract and wagered money on the outcome of the game. Therefore, they likely had no interest in the outcome of the game beyond perhaps wanting it to take as little time as possible so they could get home sooner. They had nothing to gain by "nitpicking" the poor Hokies to even the playing field so the Tribe could keep it close. Also, if an official IS going to nitpick, he would do that on subjective calls like pass interference or maybe even a questionable holding call. False start and illegal formation? Pretty objective and clearly confirmed by replay. I don’t remember Coach Beamer pitching a sideline fit because one of our upperclassman offensive linemen was wrongly penalized for a false start he truly didn’t commit. Perhaps the excuse is intended to mean the players would have been more focused had the opponent been of a higher caliber. If that’s the case, that’s clearly operator error. After all, Coach Foster’s LPD clearly managed to maintain focus, only committing one of the called penalties.
So many of us were watching the game on Saturday and saying, "We can’t keep doing this," each time another flag was thrown. The thing is, the Hokies CAN keep committing offenses and drawing flags. And as the season progresses and the microscope’s focus sharpens, those five yards lost against W&M for a false start will likely seem a lot shorter compared to five yards against, say Miami. Granted, we've come a long way since the days where it was expected that our defense would cost the team a couple of 15-yard unsportsmanlikes. Some of those penalties were completely deserved; others, I submit, are the inspiration behind this South Park clip:
All things considered, we have evolved into a pretty disciplined team. However,we have also come a long way since the days of lining up and steamrolling over teams or expecting our mobile QB to take off down the field and make a play. No, our situation is much more fragile right now, and we're not at the level to where we can afford to spot our opponent 75 free yards per game. People forget the second half of, "We can’t keep doing this," and that is, "…and expect to be successful."
Now THAT is a fair statement.