The Tar Heels’ undisciplined play rose to the forefront in their back-to-back victories over Virginia Tech and Miami in early October, despite committing 15 penalties – one shy of the school record – in both games.
In those two Coastal Division contests, UNC totaled 30 penalties for 266 yards, more than 40 FBS teams had committed during the first six weeks of the season combined.
North Carolina currently ranks 99th nationally in both penalties per game (7.6) and penalty yards per game (67.3). The most staggering aspect of those statistics, however, is that should those rankings hold until the end of the season, they would represent Fedora’s best during his five-year head coaching career.
His previous four-year stop at Southern Miss resulted in a grand total of 406 penalties for 3,710 yards.
The Golden Eagles’ highest ranking in the fewest-penalties-per-game category during Fedora’s tenure was 104th in 2010 (7.5), while their best mark in the fewest-penalty-yards-per-game category was 106th in 2011 (63.9).
In Fedora’s 53 games in Hattiesburg, Southern Miss averaged 7.7 penalties and 70.0 penalty yards per game.
Those rankings provide an extra layer of perspective for Fedora’s comments following his team’s penalty bonanza against Virginia Tech four weeks ago.
“I wish I could tell you we’ve emphasized it more than we have in the past, but I would be lying to you,” Fedora said on Oct. 10. “We have been emphasizing it every week about playing smart. We’ve been harping on that from Day One. We just did a poor job of it on Saturday.”
As glaring as those statistics may be, it’s necessary to put them in the proper context. Fedora’s no-huddle spread offense is designed to push the tempo and run more plays than a large majority of the 120 FBS programs.
In order to better gauge whether or not penalties have been a legitimate concern during Fedora’s head coaching career, InsideCarolina.com compared his tenure at Southern Miss with six other BCS programs over the same four-year period. Three of the teams – Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas Tech – consistently ranked near the top nationally in number of offensive plays run, while the other three – Boston College, Rutgers and Minnesota – were consistently on the other end of the spectrum.
From 2008-11, Oklahoma averaged 81.0 plays per game, followed by Texas Tech (78.7), Southern Miss (74.8), Oregon (73.3), Rutgers (65.8), Boston College (64.7) and Minnesota (64.7).
As expected, there was a correlation between number of plays run and number of penalties committed, although the statistics don’t absolve Fedora from his penalty criticism.
Southern Miss led the group with 7.7 penalties per game over the four-year period, followed by Texas Tech (7.5), Oregon (7.2), Oklahoma (6.4), Rutgers (6.1), Minnesota (6.0) and Boston College (4.8).
Boston College committed a penalty every 13.6 plays, followed by Oklahoma (one every 12.7), Minnesota (10.9), Rutgers (10.8), Texas Tech (10.4) and Oregon (10.2). Southern Miss occupied the bottom of the list, committing a penalty every 9.8 plays.
North Carolina is currently committing a penalty every 10.0 plays in 2012.
Another factor to consider when analyzing the penalties is Fedora’s motto: “Play smart, play fast and play physical.”
While the smart tag may not apply in this discussion, the aggressive nature of the latter two traits would seem to encourage more risks that would ultimately lead to more penalties than a team more conservative in approach.
As it stands now, North Carolina is on pace to set a new school record in most penalty yards, surpassing the 792 penalty yards tallied in 2002. UNC is 31 penalties shy of the school record (99 in ‘10), meaning the Tar Heels should be safe from that mark, minus a repeat of the Virginia Tech-Miami doubleheader.
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