After being one of the least penalized teams in the country in 2008, Alabama began the 2009 season with an uncharacteristically high 10 penalties for 89 yards in the season opener against Virginia Tech. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at all of the penalties incurred and see if we can learn something moving forward. Let's start with listing all of the penalties themselves, with the specific foul and player who committed it in bold:
Holding penalty called on James Carpenter on 2nd and 10 in the first quarter. The penalty erased a two-yard reception by Mark Ingram, and created a 2nd and 20 situation. Fortunately, though, Darius Hanks made a spectacular grab on third and long to keep the chains moving, which ultimately led to an Alabama field goal.
- False start penalty on Mike Johnson on 1st and 10 in the first quarter. The penalty put the Tide in a 1st and 15 situation, which forced Alabama to throw the football. After two incompletions, Greg McElroy was intercepted on 3rd and 15 after being hit while trying to throw.
- Personal foul penalty on Tyrone King, who made a horse collar tackle on the Virginia Tech kick returner late in the second quarter. The tackle was a bit of a desperation one made out of necessity trying to limit the big kick return. This fifteen yard penalty gave the Hokies the ball at their own 49 yard line, a drive that ended in the McClain meltdown.
- Pass interference on Marquis Johnson on a 3rd and 10 on the ensuing possession. Johnson jumped early on a hook route, and in the referee's determination he got there a tad bit too early. This gave the Hokies a 1st and 10 at the Alabama 48, where one play later Ryan Williams made the big catch on the busted coverage.
Personal foul penalty on Rolando McClain, which negated a forced fumble by Alabama's Lorenzo Washington. The situation without the penalty would have been second and goal from just inside the Alabama 20 yard line. The penalty yardage was half the distance to the goal line, which moved the Hokies just inside the 'Bama 10.
- Personal foul penalty on Rolando McClain, the second penalty he drew for his actions on that one particular play. Again, it erased a 2nd and goal from just inside the Alabama 20, and with the penalty again being half the distance to the goal line, this moved the Hokies just inside the Alabama 5-yard line. Three players later, Ryan Williams scored to give the Hokies a 17-16 lead.
- False start penalty on Barrett Jones on 1st and 10 early in the third quarter. The penalty created a 1st and 15 situation for the Tide, but that ultimately proved to be no issue. The following play Roy Upchurch raced for a long run, thus negating any ill effects of the penalty, but unfortunately he was stripped at the end and the Hokies recovered the fumble.
Personal foul penalty on Chris Jordan for a late hit on the Virginia Tech kick returner mid-way through the fourth quarter. Much like Tyrone King's horse collar penalty earlier in the game, this was a bit of a desperation penalty as we were trying to stop another long return, though it was not an egregious late hit. The Hokies would have had the ball at midfield, but the penalty gave them the ball at the Alabama 35.
- Holding penalty on James Carpenter mid-way through the fourth quarter. This penalty occurred right after Mark Ingram's long run -- where, incidentally, Carpenter did a great job in opening the way by making a good block, in space, on the second level against a much smaller defender -- and negated a two-yard run by Terry Grant on first down. It set up a 1st and 20, but thankfully another good run by Mark Ingram and a 19-yard pass completion from Greg McElroy to Colin Peek meant the penalty ultimately did Alabama no real harm. The drive ended with McElroy's touchdown pass to Mark Ingram.
- Delay of game on the Alabama offense, very late in the fourth quarter. This came on the last possession of the game, where Trent Richardson ran out of the clock with interior runs, and was a totally meaningless penalty.
And those were the ten penalties that Matt Austin's crew nailed the Tide for, so what can we learn from them?
First and foremost, we can see that many of the penalties didn't actually come back to harm the Tide. We overcame both of James Carpenter's holding penalties, plus the false start penalty on Barrett Jones. Likewise, the late-minute delay of game was a completely meaningless penalty that merely padded the stat line in a negative way. On the other hand, though, many of the penalties hurt us badly. The Hokies' late touchdown in the second quarter was almost entirely the result of four penalties on the Tide, and had Mike Johnson's false start penalty been averted, it's entirely possible (and perhaps likely) that we start with a run on 1st and 10 and stay out of the obvious passing situation that resulted in the McElroy interception. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of penalties hurt bad, some turned out to be harmless.
Now, moving forward, a few of the penalties are probably of little concern. The delay of game penalty, again, was meaningless in the first place, and as disturbing as Rolando McClain's meltdown was (and costly, too) it's highly unlikely that he (or anyone else on defense for that matter) does that again in the near future. Likewise, Marquis Johnson's pass interference penalty was a bit of a questionable call, and one that -- while a very slight technical violation of the rule -- was probably more the result of a trigger-happy referee than anything else. Moving forward, it's probably of little concern.
On the other hand, the penalties on the offensive line and on special teams are a major concern, and I'm afraid to say penalties that we may struggle with again moving forward. The offensive line committed four penalties -- and the two holding penalties on Carpenter do not include Drew Davis' tackle of Jason Worilds on a third and long that the Tide ultimately turned into a touchdown; a no-call that this Alabama fan readily admits that he has no clue how the referees missed -- and those penalties were the result of their struggles. Bottom line, they were committing penalties because they were having trouble handling the Hokies for much of the night, and if we struggle with an opposing front seven again, I'm afraid the penalties are going to return. We were really fortunate to largely overcome those penalties against the Hokies, not to mention the luck on the non-call on Davis, but there's no guarantee that we will be that lucky moving forward.
Likewise, moving forward, the special teams penalties are a concern. We had breakdowns in kick coverage all night long, and both Tyrone King's horse collar penalty and Chris Jordan's late hit penalty were the direct result of those players trying in desperation to avoid another long run-back for a touchdown by the Virginia Tech kick returner. Again, if you struggle severely in kick coverage, you are going to commit those type of penalties out of sheer desperation alone.
All in all, things weren't necessarily as bad as the raw numbers might tell you. Several of the penalties were of the likely non-recurring variety that we will not likely see in large volumes in the future, but there are some legitimate concerns here. If our offensive line continues to struggle like it did for much of the game against Virginia Tech, and if the kick coverage team continues its breakdowns, we are likely to continue to see penalty flags flying at a relatively high rate.