Sunday, February 25, 2024

Spartans conference leaders in penalties

Head coach John L. Smith reacts on the sidelines of Spartan Stadium on Saturday. The Spartans defeated the Scarlet Knights, 44-28. —

With two games behind them and two weeks before conference play begins, MSU the defending national champion Ohio State are on top of the Big Ten.

But the statistical category they share is not one to be proud of. They stand face masks and shoulder pads above the rest in penalties.

The Spartans rank slightly higher than the Buckeyes in penalties after raking up 190 yards on 23 flags compared to Ohio State's 16 flags for 164 yards.

The nearest team in the conference is Minnesota, which has been penalized 12 times for 95 yards in two games.

Head coach John L. Smith said the team is trying to improve its wrongful ways by eliminating all penalties, especially lazy ones.

"It's the stupid penalty and the lack-of-effort penalty," Smith said. "Those are the ones that really upset us.

"And there were some stupid penalties in the last game that we've tried to address and tried to make sure that (the players) understand. If that continues, they're going to have trouble playing, because we're not going to allow that to continue."

But the team's overall effort has been impressive, Smith said.

"We've got to be smarter - it's not that there's a lot of lack of effort," Smith said. "I think for the most part, our kids are playing with good effort. It's drastically different than where we have been. We just have to be smarter at times."

The majority of the penalty yards - 113 of 190 - came in last week's game against Rutgers. The Spartans are averaging 95 penalty yards a game, while their opponents are averaging half of that, with 47.

Some players have concerns about the disadvantages the team is creating for itself, especially with a tough game against 2001 Western Athletic Conference champion Louisiana Tech coming Saturday.

"We've got to eliminate those penalties and stop making those dumb mistakes," sophomore running back Jaren Hayes said. "But it's going to happen.

"We have to take discipline and try to eliminate those penalties. If we have that many penalties, it's going to be a tougher game. We have to control the game and if we eliminate those penalties, I think we'll do fine."

Two of MSU's 13 penalties were pass interference on the defense. Defensive back DeAndra Cobb blamed some of the penalties on players being too excited.

"Penalties are all mental," Cobb said. "Most of them, (the players) are overanxious. They're just overwhelmed about going against somebody.

"Once we calm down and are able to balance the excitement and be calm, it will all come together."

Sometimes, though, it's necessary to take the penalties instead of giving up a big play, senior bandit Monquiz Wedlow said.

"You can't get mad at (a penalty), unless a player just grabs somebody," Wedlow said.

"If they're beat, I'd rather see a player grab somebody before I let them run down the field and catch the ball. I'd give 15 yards rather than seven points any day."

Last year, under Bobby Williams, MSU ranked second worst in the conference in penalties, averaging 62.6 penalty yards a game. Only co-Big Ten champion Iowa was worse, with 71.9 per game.

On Monday at his weekly press conference, Smith said he would take a player out of the game if he committed too many "stupid penalties."

"A player may get pulled and he may not get back in," Smith said. "That's what he has to understand - to play the game, you have to be able to be accountable.

"You can't let the other 10 guys down - or the other 85."

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