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'Day-one, self-inflicted' penalties haunt Cavaliers

By Steve Yanda

Penalties have been a persistent issue for the Virginia football team this season. In one-third of their games so far this season, the Cavaliers were charged with more than 100 penalty yards. Virginia was called for 11 penalties in each of its past two games and has been called for nine penalties on two other occassions this season.

Only eight Division 1-A teams in the country are giving up more penalty yards per game than are the Cavaliers (70.1). Statistically-speaking, Miami (75.4) is the only Atlantic Coast Conference squad less disciplined than Virginia this season.

Prior to this fall, Virginia had not accumulated 10 or more penalties in a game since Sept. 15, 2007 against North Carolina. The Cavaliers had not been charged with 100 or more penalty yards since Sept. 6, 2008 against Richmond.

"I intimated to the team that, you know, just like we get scouting reports on other teams, I'm quite sure the officials get reports on teams and their penalties and things like that," Coach Mike London said Sunday, a day after his team racked up 11 penalties for 103 yards in a 55-48 loss at Duke. "So, real or perceived, when you come into a game, we have to make sure that, you know, some of them are just day-one, self-inflicted things."

Against the Blue Devils, Virginia was called for three personal fouls, two offensive holdings, an illegal block, an ineligble receiver downfield, an offsides, a pass interference, a false start and a defensive substitution. On the fourth-quarter play when quarterback Marc Verica threw his third interception of the day, the Cavaliers were called for illegal procedure. Of course, Duke declined that penalty.

"When you're motioning across, you can't move forward; you have to stay lateral or stop before the ball snaps," London said. "That happened about two or three times, and that's just a matter of mental focus."

The penalties that helped sustain Duke offensive possessions were the most damaging. On the Blue Devils' first drive of the game, quarterback Sean Renfree ran out of bounds for a one-yard loss on a third and 14 play. Duke punted, and Virginia went on its merry way.

Or at least, that's how it should have gone.

What really happened was that senior cornerback Mike Parker hit Renfree after the quarterback was out of bounds, drawing a 15-yard personal foul penalty that gave Duke a first down. The Blue Devils scored a touchdown two plays later.

"The action that was described to me, and the intention that was described to me, was not what you'd have a chance to look back on film and see what it is," London said. "But the fact was that it was called a penalty, a late hit, personal foul. We can't do that."

On Duke's second drive of the third quarter, the Blue Devils faced a third and five from their own 33-yard-line. Defensive tackle Matt Conrath was called offside for lining up in the neutral zone, a five-yard penalty that afforded Duke a first down. Eight plays later, the Blue Devils scored a touchdown to retake the lead.

Field position was another area in which Virginia hampered itself by committing penalties. The Cavaliers' average starting field position* in the first three quarters of Saturday's game: 1st Quarter -- their own 15-yard-line, 2nd Quarter -- their own 18-yard-line, 3rd Quarter -- their own 14-yard-line.

* Duke's average starting field position in the first three quarters: 1st Quarter -- the Virginia 48-yard-line, 2nd Quarter -- their own 38-yard-line, 3rd Quarter -- their own 33-yard-line. For the day, Duke's average starting field position was its own 39-yard-line; Virginia's was its own 23-yard-line.

Virginia's second penalty of the game was a personal foul on the kickoff return following Duke's first touchdown. Instead of starting on the 20-yard-line, the Cavaliers started on the 10.

In the second quarter, Virginia was called for an illegal block on a punt return. Instead of starting at the 17-yard-line, the Cavaliers started at the nine. On the very next play, wideout Kris Burd was called for being an ineligible receiver downfield on a 10-yard pass that he caught. That backed Virginia up to its own four-yard-line. Perhaps as a show of sympathy -- but more likely due to its naturally porous state -- Duke allowed the Cavaliers to march all the way downfield and score a touchdown on that same drive.

"We took the penalties today, and we just looked at 'em and said, 'Listen, whether you think that they're penalties or not, that's not the issue,'" London said. "The fact that the flags were thrown, that's the issue. And it stopped some drives and extended drives for them. We can't do that."

Later on in his response to a question about finding ways to try to cut down on the number of penalties his team is incurring, London said:

"We've got to continue to keep educating these guys about particularly those things that no one is making you illegal procedure or false start or anything like that. It's just ongoing. It's an on-going process to keep teaching, just got to keep teaching, keep showing by example. You've just got to keep coaching them, and that's what it's all about."

By Steve Yanda  | November 8, 2010; 9:39 AM ET
Categories:  Football  
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