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Bye-Week Focus: Arizona State's Penalty Problem

Fixing penalties should be a major point of focus for Arizona State, should they have desires to end the season on a strong note.

There's no denying how talented the Arizona State Sun Devils are, and perhaps that's a big source of frustration for a team that has seemingly beat itself in both losses suffered this season. 

All the pieces to a potential championship puzzle are there, and the Sun Devils are a puzzle that can't quite figure itself out. 

A big problem for Arizona State? Discipline. According to the NCAA's official website, the Sun Devils rank 130th in the FBS (dead last for those wondering) in average penalty yards per game with 89.71 and are just one penalty behind Toledo for most overall flags thrown at 67.

Penalties have derailed the Sun Devils in losses to BYU and Utah. Arizona State had a combined 29 penalties in those games. 

The Athletic's Doug Haller wrote a terrific article where he mentioned, according to sports-reference.com, Arizona State is one of 16 schools to commit 13 or more penalties in a game this season. They're also the only school to do that three times.

Through seven games, 27 of Arizona State's 67 penalties (nearly 25%) have occurred before the snap or after the play was over (think penalties such as false starts, illegal motion, etc.). The other 40 have come post-snap, or during the play. 

Twenty-one of the 67 penalties were either 15-yard penalties and/or personal fouls, occurring on nearly 32% of flags thrown. Think roughing the passer, targeting or anything unnecessary following the play. 

For what it's worth, the Sun Devils have also had another seven penalties declined/offset with others this season. 

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards offered this to say following the game against Utah about his team's somewhat intriguing ability to continually penalize themselves:

“You know, I have no idea. I mean, I wish I could tell you. It just reared its head again. There were some times where it wasn’t the right time obviously, we went backwards on some plays.

"We overcame a few of them, but you can’t do that and we know that. I don’t think any player goes out there to commit a foul, but we committed too many in certain instances of the game where it became real big. We overcame a couple of them, but we didn’t overcome enough of them, and that’s just too many fouls.”

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Football coaches will often admit the penalties each team tries to eliminate are the "preventable ones," also known as the pre-snap penalties such as false starts or anything else that is essentially a mental error. 

Of course, the Sun Devils, much like every team, will continue to see flags. It's just the nature of the game, as very rarely do football teams play a clean game. 

However, in Arizona State's case, the inability to even somewhat limit penalties has truly prevented them playing their best football in moments where they needed it.

That also adds to the frustration for ASU faithful. Sixteen penalties against BYU? It was a four-point game with under four minutes left to play. 

Thirteen penalties against Utah? Despite 28 unanswered points, the game was still within one possession until a Utes touchdown with 2:39 left assured the Sun Devils of their second loss. 

The real problem? There's no easy fix for these penalties. Through seven games, it's very apparent Arizona State simply hasn't received whatever messages of discipline instilled by the coaching staff. 

Admittedly so, flags are almost random, as officials aren't able to see (and therefore call) everything on the field. Along with officials being human and making bad calls (Pac-12 referees especially), there's no true answer in getting Arizona State to play a clean string of games. 

The Sun Devils have played just one game where they've amassed five or less penalties. You don't have to wear a headset on the sideline to understand that's simply not a recipe for success. 

With just five games left in the regular season, the Sun Devils need to run the table in order to even have a chance of sniffing an appearance in the Pac-12 title game. 

Adjustments will be made on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. However, Arizona State won't be able to reach heights those around Tempe believe they're capable of until they fix their penalty problem. 

It ultimately boils down to a group effort between players and coaches to take responsibility and fix their wrongs before it truly is too late in the season.