Pac-12 teams seeing lots of yellow
Some Pac-12 teams are seeing lots of yellow flags this season. And that has their coaches concerned.
Nearing the halfway point of the season, Oregon is among the nation's worst teams both in the number of penalties and the yards they have cost. UCLA is ranked second-to-last among FBS teams in those categories, while USC, Utah and Oregon State also rank near the bottom.
Oregon has been flagged 52 times for 467 yards in coach Willie Taggart's first year as head coach, averaging 10.4 penalties for 93.4 yards a game. The Ducks had 10 penalties for 110 yards last weekend in their 45-24 victory over California.
"With those penalties, some of them are judgmental. Some of them are the right call, some of them aren't. So you've got to look at it for what it is and continue to coach, and hopefully we can go out there and not have any penalties," Taggart said. "Maybe we can be like Navy."
Through five games, Oregon is the Pac-12's second-most penalized team of the past decade. Only the 2013 Washington Huskies had more penalties with 53 (for 459 yards) to open the season, according to sports-reference.com.
Two flags stood out against Cal. Oregon safety Tyree Robinson was ejected in the first half of the game because of targeting. An 81-yard touchdown reception by Tony Brooks-James was called back because of an illegal block by Taj Griffin.
The penalties could get worse for the Ducks before they get better. As injuries pile up, Oregon will be forced to go with less experienced players.
The Ducks (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) lost quarterback Justin Herbert, running back Royce Freeman and receiver Dillon Mitchell, all starters, to injuries in the Cal game. Herbert is out for the time being, while Freeman and Mitchell are considered day-to-day. Junior linebacker Kaulana Apelu is out for the season with an ankle fracture. Receiver Charles Nelson was already dealing with an ankle injury.
In the face of all those injuries, Oregon hosts No. 11 Washington State (5-0, 2-0) this week.
But Oregon is certainly not the only team struggling when it comes to flags. UCLA has had four players ejected for targeting in the past four games. The latest was Darnay Holmes, who was sent off the field in the Bruins' 27-23 victory over Colorado last weekend.
Overall, the Bruins (3-2, 1-1) are ranked second-to-last for penalties among FBS teams with 49 for 455 yards through five games.
Coach Jim Mora said he was most bothered by the defensive holding calls downfield during the Colorado game.
"We just continue to work hard on stressing the fundamentals, being good with our eyes, being good with our hands, being good with our feet, and we're in the right position so we don't have to grab," Mora said.
He had called some of the prior targeting penalties simply "good football plays" but said the officials got it right for the call against Holmes.
"The targeting penalty on Darnay, I think was a good call. We have to keep player safety at a premium, we have to be careful, we have to teach him to lower his point of aim and keep his head up," Mora said.
UCLA has a bye this week before visiting Arizona (2-2, 0-1) on Oct. 14.
USC (4-1, 2-1) puts its defensive backs in boxing gloves during practice to discourage holding. The No. 14 Trojans have seen 39 flags for 366 total yards (119th nationally) this season.
Coach Clay Helton said one stat stuck out to him following USC's 30-27 loss at Washington State on Friday night.
"One of the things that you always look into is making sure you're not shooting yourself in the foot," Helton said. "One of the things I saw the other night is we were 2-for-11 on third down. A lot of times it's not how you are performing on third down, it happens on earlier downs. First- and second-down efficiency. When you look at our third down situation, over half of them were third and long, and some of them were because of penalties."
USC hosts Oregon State (1-4, 0-2) this Saturday. The Beavers have 31 total penalties for 330 yards, among other concerns in a difficult season.
Through four games, Utah has 39 penalties for 365 yards (that's 118th in the nation). Coach Kyle Whittingham said there's a fine line between being too cautious and being too aggressive.
"The bottom line is we're losing too much yardage. I think we're netting about minus-45 yards in penalties per game with what we're getting and what our opponents are getting," Whittingham said. "So that's too big a disparity, too big a discrepancy and we've got to clean things up a little bit."
The Utes (4-0, 1-0) host Stanford (3-2, 2-1) on Saturday.