Familiar penalties plaguing ASU football team

PENALTY PROBLEM: Sophomore linebacker Vontaze Burfict reacts after a play during ASU’s 41-20 win over Northern Arizona. Burfict was flagged in the game for two 15-yard penalties; one for unsportsmanlike conduct and one for roughing the passer. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

It’s becoming an epidemic and a major cause for concern:   ASU simply can’t avoid the yellow penalty flag.

While teams are going to get penalized over the course of a season, the concerning factor for the Sun Devils is that the penalties they are committing are ones that are controllable, such as roughing the passer, unsportsmanlike conduct and personal fouls.

“We had way too many penalties and that’s my fault,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. “I’m the one that has to control those, I’m tired of them.”

Through two games, ASU has committed a whopping 24 penalties, which is tied for the most amongst Division I FBS teams.

In the FBS, only Pac-10 Conference rival Southern California has allowed more penalty yards than ASU’s 224.

Penalties have hurt the Sun Devils in the Erickson era and the veteran coach took steps to improve that for 2010. Officials were present at every practice in the spring and fall, throwing flags as they saw penalties.

Erickson has stressed to his team that they need to play clean, but his message is getting lost in translation.  That is all that he talked about with his team in the locker room following Saturday’s win against NAU.

“I’m beside myself on this,” Erickson said after the game. “I’m really upset about it. We talked afterwards, and that’s all I talked about in the team meeting or when we got done. We’ve addressed them.”

If the situation is not corrected, ASU is going to suffer the consequences when the competition stiffens.

“It’s going to cost us a game,” Erickson said. “When are we going to learn? When we get beat by Wisconsin because of a couple dumb penalties?”

While it is impossible to cut out all penalties, it is the personal foul or the roughing the passer penalty that extends an opponent’s drive on third down that can really take a toll.

“We are going to have some penalties,” Erickson said. “I don’t want 13 of them though. We are going to have penalties because that’s the way we play, and as long as there not of the unsportsmanlike type, then you can live with them. Hopefully we learned from it, and now we can just go out and play.”

Sophomore linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been particularly penalty prone since arriving at ASU.

Burfict was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Saturday and was taken out for the rest of that possession. He came back into the game on NAU’s next possession and was flagged for roughing the passer on the very first play.

“If he doesn’t get his emotions [in check] he won’t play,” Erickson said. “We can’t afford to have that happen. As good of a football player as he is, we just can’t afford to have that happen.”

Erickson isn’t sure if the Sun Devils are labeled amongst officials as a team that commits a lot of penalties, thus putting a target on their back.

Some calls on Saturday might have indicated just that.  There were a few judgment calls by the officials that didn’t go ASU’s way.

It is often hard for a coach to eliminate those kinds of penalties because they are aggressive mistakes.

“When you’ve got two guys rushing the passer and he just lets go of [the ball] and they hit him, what do you do? Tell them to stop?” Erickson said. “It’s hard to do that, but obviously we have to improve. If it creates problems for us in terms of winning, then we have to cure the problem. We will do that, but our guys play hard and that’s how we play.”

Reach the reporter at andrew.gruman@asu.edu