One of the biggest takeaways from the spring game was how good the offenses looked and the rhythm between the quarterback and receivers.
But it was also notable that there were a lack of penalties, just six between the Garnet and Gold teams. It’s easy to chalk up as a “just a spring game” observation but it’s also a sign that one of college football’s most penalized teams is taking steps in the right direction to reverse that trend.
Florida State committed 88 penalties for 700 yards – yes, seven football fields – in 2018. The Seminoles were 118th out of 130 FBS teams and put themselves in difficult down-and-distance situations, often because of pre-snap penalties.
“As you go through and you evaluate everything, we know that was an issue for us last year,” coach Willie Taggart said. “We have refs out at practice. And we make sure that they call everything like they’re going to call it in the game. And we keep track of it after each practice and there’s punishment for doing those things. We have to hold our guys accountable to doing it the right way all the time.”
FSU has been among the most highly penalized teams in college football since 2010. Here’s a year by year look at FSU’s penalties:
2018 – 88 flags for 700 yards
2017 – 78 flags for 699 yards
2016 – 100 flags for 948 yards
2015 – 89 flags for 702 yards
2014 – 88 flags for 683 yards
2013 – 79 flags for 694 yards
2012 – 89 flags for 809 yards
2011 – 103 flags for 875 yards
2010 – 88 flags for 808 yards
What was striking about penalties last season was that so many seemed to be mental mistake penalties vs. effort penalties. And that the Seminoles played only 12 games while hitting 88 penalties – a bowl game conceivably would have pushed them toward 100.
Some of FSU’s struggles with penalties can be attributed to inexperience on the offensive line and injuries at receiver, both of which were position groups that were frequently flagged.
If there were some red flags about Taggart historically it was the constant yellow flags at Oregon and South Florida. The Ducks were dead last in the FBS in 2017 with 122 penalties, while South Florida also had 83 in 2016 and 79 in 2015, for example.
Taggart thinks part of the solution is familiarity with the offense in his second year at FSU as well as new coordinator Kendal Briles simplifying the concepts this spring. But it’s also clearly been a focus for the staff and players in the offseason and a persistent, daily evaluation of practices.
“A lot of it comes to teaching,” Taggart said. “A lot of times when you teach well enough then your guys aren’t thinking so much and then they don’t make those jughead mistakes. A lot of it comes to teaching and you got to do that all the time.”