Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Discipline Has Become an Issue

As excited as I am about the Gopher's prospects for the last three games of the season (In the post about Weber and the offense yesterday I used the word "love" more often than a high school girl talking about the stupid Twilight series), the 17 penalties were and are a cause for concern. The official stats came out today, and as expected, our 65 penalties for 567 yards both rank dead last in the Big Ten (and 83rd and 87th nationally). Now, considering those numbers are actually better than teams like Oregon, Southern Cal, Texas, Oklahoma and Miami, a lot of penalties are not always a recipe for disaster. However, to compensate for all of their penalties, all of those teams are just a wee bit better on offense and defense than we are, so I'd say the problem is bigger for us than it is for them.

And make no mistake, it IS a problem. Since week one we've seen penalty after penalty called on the offensive line, and a lot of them are what I'd call "mental errors" like false start penalties. I don't love physical mistakes, but they happen, and usually because your players are being aggressive and flying around. Most pass interference and late hit calls are phyical mistakes, where you're playing all-out and you maybe get to a receiver a step too early or hit a guy inbounds and you finish the hit which takes you out of bounds. It happens, and it happens to fast, aggressive defenses. Offensively, and especially on our line, we're seeing a lot of mental mistakes, and we're seeing the same ones over and over and over. I know mental mistakes happen from time to time (after all, nobody's perfect- even Adam Weber), but I have no patience for false start calls. None. Of all the penalties in football, there is zero excuses for that one because you know EXACTLY when the ball is being snapped. Every time. And yet that one happens repeatedly to our line.

While our linemen are probably just that good, some of that blame also has to go on the coaches. How does this keep happening week after week after week? Sure, maybe it happens a few times early in the season when our new starters are learning the ropes, or it happens in a hostile road environment like Happy Valley or The Shoe, but at home? AT HOME?!?!? For Jeff Wills to false start twice in a row on third and long? TWICE IN A FREAKING ROW?!?!?!?!?!?!?

As you can tell, I have no patience for it, and it needs to stop. As I said yesterday, I've heard Brewster looks at every single penalty with the team when they review game tape, and while the accountability is nice, it doesn't mean much if it's not working. And it's clearly not working, as discipline problems and mental errors continue on the field. As much as I love this team right now and am excited about the positive direction we're going, the Gophers are not good enough yet to overcome this many penalties against good teams and get away with it. Laugh if you want, but if we bring the offense and defense we saw against Michigan State down to Iowa City and leave most of the dumb penalties at home, I like our chances against Iowa. I really, really do. But no matter how well we play, we don't stand a chance against the stinkin' Hawks if we continue to give up and hand out free yards on penalties.

Speaking of the dirty, stinkin', cheating Hawkeyes, I picked on them before the season started because it seemed so many of their players were getting arrested down in Iowa City that they were going to have to add a practice facility at the local jail just to make sure all the players could get to practice. Well, in the wake of the Michael Carter arrest news from yesterday, I won't be saying a word about Iowa's off-field incidents anymore. As the Hawkeye fans so kindly pointed out back in August, the Gopher football program have had their fair share of incidents now too, and while Carter only faces misdemeanor charges of obstruction of justice and consumption by a minor, it still looks terrible for the program. Especially after Carter himself played so well and looked so promising Saturday night.

I have no idea what penalties are coming for Carter, if any. What's sad is that as a Gopher fan, I'm hoping he'll just learn from his mistake and get a slap on the wrist. I'm not ready to say we have a serious off-field discipline problem for our football team, but this is certainly troubling for us fans, and for Brewster. You probably remember the story from September about sophomore linebacker Gary Tinsley alledgedly swinging a piece of wood in a Dinkytown brawl. No charges ended up being brought against Tinsley, but it put the football program in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons, and continued a string of arrests and off-field incidents that goes back to the Mason Era.

I'm by no means expecting the Gopher football players to be choir boys. I was in college once and made some dumb decisions, almost all of them involving alcohol, so I'm not expecting them to act like perfect adults and always make a good decision. But this kind of stuff needs to stop, and these guys needs to realize some level of responsibility that as football players, they're going to be held to a higher standard and unfair or not, they're probably going to be singled out more than your average student. It's not fair, but it comes with playing football and receiving a free education at a Big Ten school. As a fan, it's frustrating to have such a thrilling positive win Saturday night, only to have discpline issues, both on and off the field, grabbing the headlines this week instead. I know and trust Coach Brewster is doing the right things behind the scenes to get this message across to his guys, and hopefully this will be the last one for awhile so we can concentrate on what the team is doing on the field, and not how they're acting off of it.

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