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The 2019 Penalty Debacle: Part Two — Not just a product of effort and youth

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Alabama at South Carolina Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In last week’s segment, we outlined Alabama’s penalty issue in 2019 — by far the least disciplined team of the Nick Saban era. We did note that for all talk of the process, and the mental images that conjures up, flag-free games have largely not been a feature of his teams.

That phenomenon is a function of several things: Aggressive teams, effort penalties, press coverage, the annual diaspora of draft-eligible juniors, underdog-friendly flags, tempo football, and the tremendous coaching turnover in Tuscaloosa all play a part, to be sure. And, those were noticeable in the 2019 penalties. But, there were a lot of mental discipline and execution errors too.

This week, we’ll break down the types of flags Alabama drew and the offenders. I’ve included offsetting penalties, no-plays, and declined penalties in this one as well:

  • Defensive Personal Fouls (targeting, roughness, facemask, etc): 16
  • Defensive Pass Interference: 9
  • Defensive Offsides: 9
  • Defensive Holding: 4
  • 12 Men / Illegal Participation: 7
  • Block in the Back: 6
  • Ineligible Downfield: 1
  • Delay of Game (including intentional): 3
  • Offensive Personal Fouls: 11
  • Offensive Holding: 11
  • OPI: Zero
  • Procedural — offsides, illegal shift, motion, false starts, etc: 26

A few things really jump out at you here.

No. 1 — The 27 personal fouls; just over two per game. And, it wasn’t simply on the defense either. The offense averaged almost one chippy moment a game. A lot of those on the offense can be chalked up to a supremely nasty line. The emergence of Landon Dickerson made this a much more chippy unit. That is also seen by the 11 accepted offensive holding penalties.

No. 2 — The 26 false starts, offsides, etc. just on the offense. Like the personal fouls, that is about two per game. You’d want to suggest this was on Dickerson messing up the snap (as happened a few times in the Iron Bowl), but he was by no means alone. It was across the two-deep. For instance, even when Chris Owens was manning the center, he was drawing flags, as were his linemates. These are the real drive-killers. If it were just one player, then you’d be much more willing to say that it was mental error or execution. Such a group-wide dysfunction points to something much different, however. Even with new starters along the line, those errors should have corrected course by midseason.

No. 3 — No, it wasn’t your imagination. It seemed that whenever Alabama would rip off a good return, it was negated by a penalty of some sort. Of the Tide’s 10 special teams penalties, several were for this infraction.

Alabama v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Okay, with that said, let’s name the names, shall we? I include the declined, offsetting, and no-play infractions here:

  • Josh Jobe (7): PF, Motion, DPI, Motion, Holding, False Start, Holding
  • Raekwon Davis (4): DPI, Roughing, Offsides, Facemask
  • Patrick Surtain II (5): DPI, Offsides, Offsides, DPI, DPI
  • Anfernee Jennings (6): Offsides, PF, Offsides, PF, Holding, PF
  • Joshua Lanier (1): Illegal Shift
  • Team (15): Ineligible Downfield, BIB, 12 Men, PF, 12 Men, PF, PF, 12 Men, 12 Men, Delay, Offsides, 12 Men, PF, Running into Kicker
  • Jerry Jeudy (3): Holding, Holding, Facemask (and I’m still salty)
  • Landon Dickerson (6): Offsides, PF, False Start, False Start, Holding, PF
  • DJ Dale (1): 12 Men
  • Jedrick Wills (7): PF, False Start, Holding, False Start, False Start, False Start, False Start
  • Devonta Smith (2): PF, Motion
  • Jordan Battle (2): BIB, DPI
  • Ben Davis (!!!) (1): Offsides
  • Slade Bolden (1): PF
  • Xavier McKinney (2): DPI, Roughing
  • Christian Barmore (2): Offsides, PF
  • Miller Forristall (2): PF, Holding
  • Mac Jones (1): Holding
  • Najee Harris (1): Offsides
  • Chris Owens (1): Holding
  • Trevon Diggs (3): Holding, DPI, False Start
  • Evan Neal (1): Holding
  • Drew Kobayashi (1): PF
  • Tua Tagovailoa (1): Delay
  • Shyheim Carter (1): DPI
  • Terrell Lewis (1): Holding
  • Cameron Latu (1): False Start
  • Ale Kaho (2): BIB, BIB
  • Jaylen Moody (1): PF
  • Alex Leatherwood (8): Holding, False Start, False Start, False Start, PF, False Start, False Start, Holding
  • Shane Lee (1): PF
  • Justin Eboigbe (2): PF, Offsides
  • Deonte Brown (2): False Start, False Start
  • Mike Bernier (1): Delay

As with the types of penalties, the individuals flagged here also suggest some interesting things about Alabama’s team composition/coaching in 2019.

No. 1 — The secondary was incredibly disciplined for a team that faced the pass on 59% of all downs. Even the player who appears to be the serial offender (Josh Jobe), drew half of those fouls on special teams. Xavier McKinney was especially disciplined back there.

No. 2 — The offensive line was a seething hot mess of flags at the tackles. Nearly everyone on the two-deep drew a flag for false starts. In some fairness to Jedrick, three of his seven infractions were against Auburn, a game dysfunction that is apparently being laid at Dickerson’s feet. And, you can absolutely see why Alex Leatherwood is coming back. The majority of his penalties were not in that contest: He was getting flagged for a variety of offenses season-long. But, on the inside, Deonte Brown put in some damned valiant uncalled holding. For a player that physical to only draw two flags — both false starts — while manning the strong-side of the running game is very impressive.

No. 3 — For such a young team, the underclassmen really played very well within the system. We have to particularly single out Lee and Barmore who saw a ton of snaps in the 2019 season.

So, there’s a summation of the penalty situation for 2019. No, your eyes didn’t deceive you. Alabama shot themselves in the foot repeatedly on special teams and throughout the season along the offensive line. Nick Saban can probably live with the effort personal fouls, despite the sheer volume of them. But those two season-long penalty problem areas — special teams, false starts — absolutely came home to roost on a crappy November afternoon in Opelika. After playing with fire for a dozen games, they would cost the Tide a possible berth in the playoffs.

Errors uncorrected are coaching deficits uncorrected, ultimately. With four linemen returning in 2020, and with the coaching staff finally experiencing no turnover for the first time since Methuselah, don’t expect to see a repeat this season.

Your turn: Discuss amongst yourselves.