It’s an oil rig in a national park, a gravy stain on a white tablecloth. Penalties are a continuing concern for unbeaten and fourth-ranked Old Dominion, though head coach Bobby Wilder said there is an understandable, even acceptable level of mistakes.
The Monarchs’ high-octane offense and across-the-board athletic ability draw national attention and account for their success. So far, they’ve also masked inordinate penalties and penalty yards.
ODU was flagged 11 times for 115 yards in last week’s 45-37 win at Richmond. After five games, the Monarchs are 118th in penalties (11.6) and 119th in penalty yards (100.8), out of 121 Football Championship Subdivision programs.
In two CAA games, ODU has been flagged 23 times for 218 yards in penalties. Last season, the ‘Narchs averaged 6.4 penalties and 59.5 yards penalized per game.
Wilder said he told his players, “Penalties aren’t what defines this football team. We’re a 5-0 team and I’m going to keep pushing you guys to play as fast as you can play, and when your kids play that fast, mistakes are going to happen.”
Wilder likened the Monarchs to Oregon. The Ducks, unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in FBS, are famously no-huddle, run a spread offense and play exceptionally fast. And yes, the Quick Quacks are 103rd in penalty yards (73.6) and 108th in penalties per game (8.4).
Wilder’s argument leaks a bit about pace leading to penalties, however, when you examine the penalty breakdown. In the two CAA games, only five of 23 penalties were committed by the offense. The other 18 were on defense and special teams, which play only as fast as opponents permit.
There, Wilder offers a plausible explanation. The Monarchs are playing many first-year players – true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and transfers – on defense and special teams. The staff is committed to the younger guys because they’re among the most talented and productive players and because doing so will develop depth, which should benefit the team as the season progresses.
Wilder doesn’t quite go the paranoia/conspiracy theory route on penalties against his bunch, though he was flummoxed by the discrepancy in the Richmond game. The Spiders were flagged only once.
After studying the video, he said that 10 of the penalties against his team were reasonable calls. As he does every week during the conference season, he sent video clips of a handful of plays to CAA officials supervisor Jim Maconaghy. On some, he questioned the call; on others, he asked why his player was flagged, but a similar play by a Richmond player was not.
“There’s so much gray area and I’m trying to clarify that gray area,” said Wilder, who also is quick to say that he thinks CAA officials are the best in FCS.
“I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated,” Wilder said. “There’s some confusion on some of the things that are being called. There’s confusion among the players on some of the things that are being called. Quite frankly, I’m confused with some of them. I just want to get it clarified so I know what are the penalties being called, how are they being called, how can I better coach it. Because I look at it and say, obviously, I’m not doing a good enough job coaching my football team right now.”
Wilder makes a point to punish players who commit personal fouls and what he calls “discipline” penalties. But he again goes back to the pace at which the Monarchs play. ODU averages 91 offensive plays per game. The Monarchs totaled 200 offensive snaps in two CAA games. If you count offense, defense and special teams plays, the Richmond game had 198 total snaps, the New Hampshire game a stunning 246 plays.
“Six or eight penalties a game, that’s who we are,” Wilder said. “If we can just cut it back a little bit. Instead of having 11 or 12, if we can get it down to seven or eight. That’s our lot in life. That’s what happens when you go as fast as we go and play as many plays as we play.”
Perhaps he’s right, but it’s worth wondering if at some point even Taylor Heinicke and the go-go offense can’t overcome that many flags and that much yardage.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun