Each week this season, let’s take a look at how the Red Raiders are doing when it comes to fixing the Texas Tech football program’s long-running penalty problem.
The Texas Tech football team has been so heavily penalized over the last two decades that even the most casual of fans know that the school’s unofficial third color has become yellow. For example, my wife (who watches only a handful of Tech games each year) automatically assumes that the Red Raiders are going to be penalized every time she sees the penalty indication light up on the TV score bug.
Over the years she, like most Tech fans, has become shell-shocked by the program’s inability to stay away from drawing the wrath of the referees. And it’s easy to understand why we feel that way.
During the Kingsbury era, Tech’s average ranking in penalties per game was 118th nationally while its average ranking in penalty yards was 115th. Not once since 2011 has Tech ranked in the top 100 nationally in penalty yards per game and 2010 and 2008 are the only years since 2003 that Tech has been a top-100 team in that category (ranking 97th in 2010 and 57th in 2008).
But in week-one of the Matt Wells era, Red Raider fans were elated to see only four penalties assessed against their team. Still, one game does not a trend or culture change make.
That’s why it might be worthwhile for us to track this issue each week of the 2019 season. So let’s take a look at how the Red Raiders did in terms of penalties against UTEP last week.
Again, the Red Raiders were flagged on only four occasions resulting in 50 yards worth of infractions. Though that was 21 more yards in penalties than in week one, it is still more than acceptable for any team, much less one with Tech’s recent history.
So let’s delve deeper into what type of penalties were committed. That’s because Matt Wells is placing a priority on eliminating as many pre or post-snap penalties as possible. Mistakes made in the course of play are understandable but mental mistakes are entirely within a player’s control.
The first time Tech was penalized was on a play when the team committed two fouls. On a 3rd-and-12 in the first quarter with Tech up 7-0, corner Zech McPhearson was called for holding and spur Kosi Eldridge was flagged for pass interference. Eldridge’s foul was the one inforced and as he left the field, he received a rather animated tongue lashing from DC Keith Patterson.
Another time Tech was guilty of two fouls on the same play was play was on a 2nd-and-10 at the Tech 47, in the third quarter. Junior DE Eli Howard made one of those unacceptable mental mistakes by jumping offsides at the snap. However, he was bailed when safety Adrian Frye was penalized for pass interference on a play where the receiver was coming back towards the ball and the two players were a bit tangled up.
Though Frye’s penality was more costly, Howard’s was likely far more frustrating to Wells. Howard is a team leader who needs to set a greater example by not jumping offsides.
Later in that same drive, Frye was once again penalized for pass interference as he was early to contact a receiver on a slant pattern over the middle. Though his infractions on that drive were both in the course of play thus making them somewhat acceptable, he is going to have to learn how to cover receivers from the safety position rather than at corner where he was a starter last season.
The final time Tech was penalized came early in the 4th quarter and it was another mental mistake. This one proved to cost the team a touchdown.
On a 1st-and-10 play at the UTEP 37, freshman DB Dadrion Taylor jumped offsides negating a pick-six by Zech McPhearson. That would have been Tech’s first takeaway of the season and McPhearson’s first career interception. Certainly, Taylor at least owes McPhearson lunch for robbing him of what would have been a memorable moment.
In all, only twice was Tech penalized for mental mistakes. That’s a number Wells can tolerate. However, as we saw with Taylor’s penalty, even five-yard penalties can be costly at times.
Still, this would have to be considered a second-straight week in which the Texas Tech football team has made significant progress towards rectifying one of the program’s longest-running problems. The Red Raiders now sit at No. 27 nationally in fewest penalties per game. But as we turn our attention to the season’s first road game this week, we will be watching closely to see whether the Red Raiders’ seemingly new-found discipline will travel with them to Arizona.