Play nice or you're out: MSU's Moorhead cracking down on unsportsmanlike penalties

Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead

Staff Writer

Life is tough on the Southeastern Conference football landscape.

The league is full of teams that are among the nation’s best.

The SEC is even tougher when you can’t get out of your own way. That’s why Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead is promising to fix his team’s penalty issues as the Bulldogs head into a critical 5 p.m. home game against Florida this Saturday.

Following last Saturday’s loss at Kentucky, MSU is one of the most penalized teams in the country. State has averaged being penalized 79.5 yards per game so far this season. Only 13 other FBS football programs out of 129 schools have been penalized more than the Bulldogs.

Arguably the biggest gut-punch so far for Mississippi State this year has been the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. The Bulldogs were bit by them in a week two win at Kansas State, then last Saturday at Kentucky, MSU again got caught multiple times crossing the line. It’s something Moorhead is determined to fix.

“(The unsportsmanlike conduct penalties) are unacceptable,” Moorhead said. “I think we went into (the Kentucky) game and played with a tremendous amount of emotion, but became too emotional. I think we turned it into a bunch of individual battles as opposed to playing as a team and concentrating on our assignment, our fundamentals and technique. Discussing it with the team and staff (on Sunday), we’re going to put an end to these unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

“Any unsportsmanlike conduct penalty now, I”m going to pull the guy out of the game. He’ll stand next to me and he’ll go back in when I tell him to go back in.”

Moorhead sees taking away playing time as the best tactic to get his guys’ attention. He sees running and other punishments as options, but not nearly as effective methods as simply taking guys out of the game for conduct detrimental to the team’s success.

While that might likely aid Moorhead’s cause to straighten things out, perhaps the biggest stride forward wasn’t made by Moorhead, but two of his players. Following last Saturday’s showing at Kentucky, before the coaching staff could even address the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty issue, Mississippi State defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons and Gerri Green called a players-only meeting to discuss things with their teammates.
“I thought that was great,” Moorhead said. “It’s not like we have an ostrich defense here and we’re sticking our head in the sand and saying (problems) don’t exist.”

Just how much will all the focus on toning things down help the Bulldogs? That will come into better focus on Saturday night against Florida.

It’s not that Moorhead doesn’t want his team to play with fire. He insists he does. He just wants the Bulldogs not to take things too far.

“It’s showing emotions without being emotional,” Moorhead said. “I think you can compete hard. I think you can exert maximum effort and do the things that are necessary to be successful on every play without losing your head and being hot-tempered. There’s a difference between playing hard and picking up the ball and throwing it at somebody or playing hard and pushing somebody after the snap. That’s not toughness. That isn’t. That’s extra. It’s unnecessary and unacceptable. You’re not going to see that moving forward.”

If Moorhead and the Bulldogs do see it in the games ahead, whoever commits the penalty will have to take an unwanted break as they’re removed from action by their head coach.

“If we do, they’ll have a view of the game from the sideline,” Moorhead said.