Football

Wilson: Syracuse needs to clean up penalty problem before it comes back to bite

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Maryland’s offense is bad. Really bad. Maybe Syracuse’s defense is really good, too, but without either starting wide receiver or either starting tackle, the Terrapins could only move the ball when the Orange was moving it for them.

It took a Lewellyn Coker kick-catch interference, Julian Whigham pass interference and Robert Welsh facemask to bring UMD into field-goal range and its only three points of the day.

“We shoot ourselves in the foot a lot with penalties,” quarterback Terrel Hunt said.

Syracuse committed 12 penalties for 115 yards, or 25 fewer than it passed for. Maryland committed just two illegal formation penalties for 10. They only cost SU (5-4, 3-2 Atlantic Coast) those three points at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium on Saturday in a 20-3 win over Maryland (5-4, 1-4), but for a team with solid defense and subpar offense, penalties will eventually come back to bite Syracuse.

SU is the sixth most penalized team in the nation this year with 74 penalties for 619 yards. That’s a whole bunch of uncontrolled controllables.

On Saturday, self-inflicted wounds singlehandedly ended the Orange’s impressive 113:22 shutout streak.

Riley Dixon punted away in the third quarter and Coker set up too close to the Terps’ return man. Fifteen yards. Kick-catch interference.

On the very next play, quarterback C.J. Brown lofted a pass down the right sideline to wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo. Whigham leapt backward and appeared to haul in an interception, but a flag came in. Fifteen yards. Pass interference.

Without completing a single pass, Maryland moved the ball 30 yards.

“Sometimes you get away with those things,” defensive backs coach Fred Reed said, “but on that one it was pretty clear that it was (pass interference).”

Two plays later it was Welsh’s turn. He reached in to make a tackle on a second-down play. Flags flew. Fifteen yards. Facemask.

Penalties have been a persistent problem for SU this season.

For a hard-nosed nosed squad like the one that head coach Scott Shafer envisions, it’s a glaring concern. The Orange has been quick to buy in to Shafer and adopt his mentality and mannerisms, but the penalty situation is still a major work in progress.

“Penalties get us upset,” linebacker Marquis Spruill said with a smile, “so we just pin our ears back, get on the ball and get ready to play.”

Some of it has to do with all the overturn, especially on offense. SU has a new head coach and offensive coordinator. Syracuse has been through a quarterback change, has Ashton Broyld learning a new position and Brisly Estime’s role is growing.

In a 13-0 win over Wake Forest a week ago, it led to a pair of illegal substitution penalties from Broyld. On Saturday, he committed a false start on the third play of the game. As a team, the Orange took four pre-snap penalties on the day.

The penalties won’t hurt them against Florida State — Jameis Winston will do enough of that on his own — but Syracuse will, in all likelihood, need to win one of its last two games against comparable foes to qualify for a bowl game. One hundred-plus yards of penalties won’t help.

During the Terrapins’ lone scoring drive, Syracuse piled up half that total. Three 15-yarders and an offside near the end of the drive gave Maryland its only points of the day. The Terps’ offense couldn’t do anything else, though, and Syracuse survived again.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t done a good enough job taking care of the penalties, but it’s a great victory,” Shafer said. “Nothing like fixing something after a win.”

David Wilson is the sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at dbwilson@syr.edu or on Twitter at @DBWilson2.

  • Bostonway

    Yup, in a close game… a similar level of penalties will cause the loss!

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