KANSAS CITY –Yellow penalty flags were not something that the Tigers had seen a lot of coming into Saturday’s game.
Lost in the hoopla of rankings and BCS implications that went with Saturday’s Border Showdown between Missouri and Kansas was this: it was a match-up of the No. 4 and No. 1 least penalized teams in college football.
But from the Tigers’ consistent fouls Saturday, you wouldn’t think that was the case.
“I think we had more penalties today than we had the entire season. We were the least penalized yardage team in the nation,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “One thing we have to do is evaluate that and process that.”
The Tigers came in averaging 4.5 penalties a game while the Jayhawks were tied for the nation’s best average at 4.2 penalties per game. But in its 36-28 victory, the Tigers managed to triple that average. They were penalized 14 times for 136 yards.
Avoidable fouls, such as excessive celebration and a bevy of holding and false start penalties on the offensive line, kept the Jayhawks in the game right until the very end.
“Maybe it was just cause we were so hyped up about the game and we mentally broke down but we definitely need to work on that,” defensive end Stryker Sulak said. “We got a few late hits after the play and other things. Hopefully we can practice with it this week and learn from it. “
Of the 14 penalties called, the defensive unit was responsible for five. But as many times as it was flagged, the Tigers defense was able to overcome a lot of those lapses.
Sulak was flagged for a late hit on Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing — it was a penalty that put the Jayhawks inside the red zone.
But on a third-and-10 play, the junior defensive end sacked Reesing, forcing the Jayhawks to settle for a field goal attempt, which went wide left. It was one of a handful of stops that the defense was able to make in spite of itself.
“We overcame a lot penalties also, I thought we did,” Pinkel said. “When we play big games in this kind of environment, we just need to not over-focus or try too hard.”
The Tigers clinched their first Big 12 North Championship since the league’s formation in 1997. And with the victory comes a return bout with the Oklahoma Sooners, the one blemish on the Tigers season. It was a slew of costly fumbles and drive prolonging mistakes that ultimately did in the then No. 6-ranked Tigers in Norman in October.
But a few things have changed since these two teams last met. The Tigers will now come in as the higher-ranked team and the one trying to keep national title hopes afloat. The Sooners will be the team needing a signature victory to solidify BCS bowl status.
And Tiger players and coaches hope that one more thing will change come next Saturday’s game: the penalties, they say, need to become fewer. The yellow flags will need to become as sparse as they were through the season’s first 11 games.
The discipline will need to return once again.
“We had some mental breakdowns, definitely,” Sulak said. “We got to work on this because we can’t do this next week and expect to come out with a victory.”
INJURY UPDATE: Tight end Chase Coffman was injured during an extra-point attempt and did not play for the remainder of the game. It was a re-aggravation of an existing injury that Pinkel says will not keep the junior out of next week’s Big 12 Championship game.