Penalties are always a popular topic with teams that aren’t playing well, and so Miami’s 7.8 accepted penalties per game, which ranks them 105th in the country, is an easy thing to hold against embattled coach Al Golden.
Golden addressed the topic following the Virginia Tech win, and as CoachingSearch.com notes, he put a good bit of the onus on the players.
“If it shows up in practice, you can eliminate some of the gymnastics, whether it’s a pre-snap thing or whatever is wrong, we can tie it down and eliminate it,” Golden said. “But it’s not really showing up.”
The nine penalties on Saturday included four false starts, a roughing the passer on 3rd and 16 and two unsportsmanlike conducts, including one after a touchdown. Golden says some of that reflects on him, but he’s not taking all of the blame.
"Rashawn Scott is not talking trash after a touchdown (in practice),” Golden said. “(Standish Dobard) never does that. Those were 30 yards right there by two veterans. They shouldn’t be doing that. That’s reflection on me as a coach. I’ve got to get that fixed. All that other nonsense on the line of scrimmage, the team has to get it fixed, and I trust our leadership to do that.”
As a Miami fan displeased with the direction of the program, it would be easy to take this as Golden passing the buck a bit, but he’s not entirely wrong that, at some point, it’s on the players to avoid doing foolish things. But what’s also a bit lost in every discussion of penalties is that there’s virtually no correlation between flags and win-loss records.
Miami’s penalties have been high under Golden, to be sure. Regarding just the flags in question against Virginia Tech, here’s where Miami stacks up since Golden’s arrival in 2011:
Personal fouls: 39, third-most in the ACC
False starts: 100, second-most in the ACC
Unsportsmanlike conduct: 17, most in the ACC
All problems, right?
But the two teams with more personal fouls? Florida State and Clemson.
The team with more false starts? Florida State.
Nationally, Miami is tied for the fifth-most unsportsmanlike flags, but the other teams are USC, South Carolina, Texas Tech, Oregon and Baylor. During that time span, that group has a combined 11 top-15 finishes.
In a micro sense, penalties do impact performance. Since the start of 2011, the average Power 5 team scores 2.27 points per drive when it is not flagged for an offensive penalty, but just 2.0 points per drive when it is.
But in a macro sense, teams with a lot of athletes who move fast and play hard are going to get flagged more often. The Power 5 teams with the most penalties since Golden was hired at Miami are Oregon, Baylor, UCLA, Texas Tech, USC, Washington, Cal, Florida, Virginia Tech and Florida State. The Canes rank just a tick worse than Ohio State and just a bit better than Georgia in terms of total penalties.
And so the problem for Miami isn’t that they’re getting flagged, because plenty of good teams get flagged. The problem is that Miami hasn’t won enough -- with or without penalties -- for Golden to avoid being blamed for the flags.