- Max Olson, Big 12 reporter
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One wins big despite the flaw. The other can't seem to win because of it.
No matter how you slice it, Baylor and Texas Tech are the two most penalized teams in college football. In 2014, these two programs finished No. 124 and No. 125 in FBS in both penalties and penalty yardage. The problem has been lingering for years, really, for different reasons and with far different results.
Since coach Art Briles' first season in 2008, Baylor has averaged an FBS-worst 7.8 penalties per game. Texas Tech, under the guidance of three different head coaches, ranks second-worst during that span at nearly 7.7 per game.
In the past six years, the Bears and Red Raiders have each had five teams finish in the bottom 25 nationally in penalties. So what are they doing wrong?
Now that's a tricky question. Briles was asked in February whether he'd address the penalty issue in spring ball. He doesn't necessarily agree with the premise.
"We just play to win," Briles said. "We play hard, we play fast, we play physical, we play intense, we play with a lot of confidence and passion and energy. And wherever that leads, it leads. But we also play with some intelligence."
He points out that there are different types of penalties. There are what he calls "hustle penalties," which a coach can generally tolerate, and then there are the more foolish ones. All penalties aren't created equal.
"I don't know how you classify those," Briles said, "but we're just going to play the game. We're going to play it hard, we're going to play it fast and we're going to live by what happens.
"And so far, our guys have been living pretty good with back-to-back championships."
Touché. Briles has every right to take that stance. Baylor finished last in FBS in penalties per game in both 2013 and 2014 and still won 22 games and two Big 12 trophies.
Baylor left tackle Spencer Drango has a few theories on why his team draws so many yellow flags. Maybe it's because Baylor runs more plays than anybody. Maybe this comes hand-in-hand with having a prolific offense that's constantly aiming for big plays.
"Our guys play the ball really aggressive on offense and defense," Drango said. "We've got a bunch of guys that want to go get it. If they've got to climb on the other guy to get it, they're going to do it. That's the nature of our guys."
That can cause problems, though, in some big games. In losses to Michigan State, West Virginia and UCF, the Bears did rack up a combined 46 flags.
Still, Briles is right that we must differentiate penalties. Let's say there are three categories.
You have hustle penalties: offensive and defensive pass interference, offensive and defensive holding, roughing the passer and illegal blocks. Then there are the dumb penalties like false start, offsides, delay of game, procedure penalties and most special teams mistakes. Finally, don't forget discipline penalties: personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct.
With that in mind, more than 40 percent of Baylor penalties in 2014 would be categorized as hustle plays. The Bears led the nation when it came to defensive pass interference/holding penalties, at three times the national average. Nearly 50 percent of the team's penalty yardage came on hustle mistakes.
It's easy to see why Briles would be OK with that aggression. It's won them a lot of games. One area the Bears need to improve? They ranked second-worst in FBS when it came to false starts and offsides flags. That's fixable.
At Texas Tech, coach Kliff Kingsbury is searching for answers. Penalties remain a puzzling and real problem during this rebuild.
"We address it in any which way we can," Kingsbury said.
Last season, his Red Raiders were flagged nine or more times in eight games. They led FBS in offensive holding penalties. The team committed just as many hustle mistakes as Baylor, but had a far bigger problem with discipline. Tech was flagged for personal fouls 18 time and unsportsmanlike conduct on nine occasions.
"As coaches, we haven't done a good enough job, I don't think, of holding them to a certain standard," Kingsbury said. "That's how you lose games. Those things showed up over and over the past two years."
He's tried all kinds of ways of sending that message, like showing highlights of Wisconsin's NCAA tournament win against Kentucky during a team meeting. It's no coincidence the Badgers reached the title game after logging the fewest turnovers and fouls in the country.
"It correlates," Texas Tech running back DeAndre Washington said. "It really boils down to the mental side and putting your teammates first. A lot of stuff can be easily avoided. I really feel like we've made strides on that this offseason.
"But we've got to cut out the dumb stuff. For real."
In the past six years, the Bears and Red Raiders have each had five teams finish in the bottom 25 nationally in penalties. What are they doing wrong?