When Eric Stephens dashed 46 yards for a touchdown in Texas Tech’s season opener against Texas State, offensive linemen Mickey Okafor and Deveric Gallington couldn’t keep their glee in check and did a little celebration dance.
For that, Tech drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and wound up kicking off from its own 15-yard line. Through two games, that’s a rare scene — and scarcity of penalty flags on Tech is quite a turnaround from the Red Raiders’ rascally ways of the recent past.
Through two games this season, the Red Raiders have been flagged seven times for 65 yards. From 2000 to 2009, Mike Leach’s tenure as head coach, Tech was among the top 25 most penalized teams in college football in eight of 10 seasons, averaging 60 to 83 yards of penalties per game.
“We’re not going to have that many a game,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said this week. “It’s all about discipline, about focus on what you’re doing. The teams that we play are too hard to overcome 5-yard penalties, much less 60 or 70 yards in penalties.”
Leach and former defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said they didn’t want to curb players’ aggression, so penalties sometimes were an unwanted byproduct of having a tough team. Leach pointed out, with justification, that penalty rate often didn’t correlate with win-loss records. In eight of the 10 seasons from 2000 to 2009, the top 25 most penalized teams included at least four teams with 10 or more wins.
Some Red Raiders who played for both staffs said Leach still could get just as angry as other coaches over stupid penalties.
“He just ripped us,” Okafor said. “It was like he was waiting for you to get a penalty so he could get on you.”
“Every coach makes a big deal about it,” said senior defensive tackle Chris Perry, referring to both Tech staffs. “We just hold ourselves accountable, I guess. I don’t really know if there’s a difference who stresses it more. It’s just, as a team, I know we’re trained better than that. We’re disciplined. Not saying we weren’t with Leach, but nobody wants to do anything to take away from the team. We’re just trying to win.”
Under Leach, players who were flagged for penalties on Saturday might do body rolls up and down the field after Sunday’s practice. A player might be absolved of the punishment if coaches disagreed with the penalty flag.
Tech players don’t want to be written up on the “NOS” sheet — that stands for “Not Our Standards” — and show up on the accompanying video.
“It’s just the embarrassment of being on the penalty film now,” Okafor said. “They show everything from penalties to broken plays. Like if you did something that he didn’t coach you to do, he rewinds and looks at them. ... I’m not saying it’s aiming to embarrass us. It’s aiming for us to do right. The goal for every player is to not get on the NOS, because as a player it’s embarrassing to see your name on the list.”
Tech was penalized five times in Saturday’s 59-13 victory at New Mexico and just twice in the season-opening 50-10 win against Texas State.
Two games is too early to say players have changed their ways — Tech averaged 60 yards a game in Tuberville’s first season — but Tuberville said it won’t be for lack of emphasis.
“I want them to be aggressive, but understand little things,” Tuberville said. “You’re going to have a facemask penalty or be too aggressive sometimes, but we want to understand, ‘Hey, personal-foul penalty can get you beat. You’ve got to be focused on what you’re doing.’ I think if you’re focused and concentrate on what you’re doing, you won’t make those silly mistakes.”
Perry said Tuberville called attention to the fact the Red Raiders were flagged only twice in the first game.
“He was like, ‘We can win with that,’” Perry said. “Coaches stress it. We stress it as a team. We’re all on the same page.”
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