Correcting the Penalty Problems

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – An abundance of penalties has plagued Larry Fedora’s head coaching tenure nearly as much as his no-huddle offensive approach has defined it. The third-year UNC head coach is determined to significantly reduce those miscues in 2014.

Last season, North Carolina ranked 13th in the ACC in penalties (96; 7.4 per game) and dead last in penalty yards (63.9). In 2012, UNC held down the league’s cellar spot in both categories, committing 7.5 penalties (90 total) for 64.3 yards per game.

It wasn’t simply a matter of Fedora’s fast-paced scheme creating more opportunities – UNC ranked seventh in the ACC in total plays run in both 2012 and 2013.

For a team that finished 7-6 a year ago, penalties played a costly role in a handful of the losses. Against Georgia Tech, an 82-yard touchdown pass from Bryn Renner to Ryan Switzer was called back to a hold by right tackle Jon Heck. Against East Carolina, a 35-yard touchdown pass from Renner to A.J. Blue was negated by a personal foul by left guard Caleb Peterson. Against Virginia Tech, Switzer was once again denied, this time on an 81-yard punt return for touchdown called back due to a block in the back by Malik Simmons.

To correct this troubling trend, Fedora and his staff cut up film clips of every penalty from 2013 during the offseason.

“We sat down and broke it down to every aspect,” Fedora told reporters on Monday. “What the breakdown was, how it happened, whether it was a lack of technique or not playing smart or all of the different things. We put a lot of emphasis on it and we implemented some new things with what we’re going to do with the officials.”

Fedora said that officials have been present for more than 75 percent of UNC’s practices in training camp.

“That’s been a big help to have them around,” he said. “We had them spend some time with our team and explain where they are on the field, what their position is on the field, what they’re actually looking for, the mechanics of how they do it.”

While seven officials have long been the norm for college football, the ACC announced in July that it would add an eighth official for all league games. The new “center judge” will line up in the offensive backfield on the opposite side of the referee and be responsible for spotting the ball and getting it ready for play.

UNC has used both seven-man and eight-man officiating crews during scrimmages to educate its players on what to expect from the various positions.

Fedora, who has backed away this season from declaring individual performance goals for his players, offered a bold objective for reducing penalties.

“Our plan is to cut our penalties in half this year,” he said.

That lofty of a goal would be quite a feat for a Fedora-led team. UNC’s 7.4 penalties per game in 2013 represents the lowest per game average during his six years as a head coach. Southern Miss ranked 12th out of 12 teams in penalty yards per game in each of Fedora’s four seasons in Hattiesburg.

 

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