Commentary

Flag bearers

Is penalty-free football the key to winning? Depends on whom you ask

Updated: December 16, 2010, 10:26 AM ET
By Ryan McGee | ESPN The Magazine

At halftime of this year's home opener, TCU head coach Gary Patterson paused to ingest his stat sheet. Then he nearly choked on it. The Horned Frogs had committed eight penalties in 30 minutes against Tennessee Tech. He flipped out.

"We had just over 200 yards of offense and 75 yards in penalties," he recalls, accurately, several months later. "I told them that at some point in time they had to take ownership and not make those kinds of mistakes. And I told them that right there in that locker room was the time to either do it or not."

TCU has done it. The Frogs received zero flags in the second half, and not many since then. After 12 games, they had reduced their penalty count to 5.3 per game (43.5 yards), which ranked 33rd out of 120 FBS schools.

Illustration by Frank StocktonThe country's top programs often walk a line between playing with discipline and playing with an edge.

Ryan McGee | email

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