Penn State had nine penalties Saturday, including a personal foul committed by the last Penn State player anyone would expect to fly in for a late hit.
With 4:57 left in the third quarter, Sam Ficken kicked off after a Penn State touchdown put the Nittany Lions up 21-3. Temple returner Matt Brown slipped through every layer of Penn State’s kick coverage, leaving just Ficken to make the play.
As Brown turned out of bounds at the Temple 30-yard line, the 172-pound Ficken — who is actually seven pounds heavier than Brown — came out of nowhere to make the tackle. However, the official determined Brown was already out.
Ficken’s penalty was not just a microcosm of his struggles this season, but it contributed 15 of Nittany Lions’ 100 penalty yards Saturday in their 24-13 win over the Owls. If all of the Lions’ penalties had occurred in one drive, Temple could have marched from endzone to endzone without running a play.
The last time Penn State lost 100 penalty yards was against Louisiana Tech in 2000 — the same school that stunned the Lions’ next opponent, Illinois, 52-24, Saturday.
“The one thing we pride ourselves on after the first three games was doing a good job of not being penalized,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “Today, I felt like we took a step back on that. I need to do a better job of coaching those guys.”
Temple also had six penalties for 36 yards in addition to Penn State’s nine fouls.
“It was kind of insane,” linebacker Glenn Carson said. “Yellow flags getting thrown everywhere. Never really seen anything like it.”
In Penn State’s first three games, it totaled just 11 penalties for 95 yards. Guard Eric Shrive dissented with some of the officials’ calls, but said the Lions can’t dwell on them.
Tight end Kyle Carter echoed those sentiments, saying he agreed with some of the calls and disagreed with others. Carter was flagged for offensive pass interference in the second quarter, which incensed O’Brien on the sidelines.
“They felt like he was blocking while the ball was in the air,” O’Brien said. “Good call. Whatever.”
Penalties stalled Penn State drives in the each of the first three quarters, forcing Alex Butterworth to punt.
Center Matt Stankiewitch, whom officials found guilty of a hold Saturday, was quick to defend his left-side run block, but he said he would go back and look at the tape.
He chalked the Lions’ penalties up to an occasional sloppy game, adding they will assess the damage this week in practice.
“Luckily, we were on the winning side of so many penalties,” Stankiewitch said. “Of course, we’re going to try to minimize them. But penalties happen, but you have to minimize them the way you practice and the way you play.”
O’Brien said the Lions need to keep their hands inside on blocks and align properly to avoid illegal formation penalties.
But ultimately, O’Brien shouldered the blame for the flags. It didn’t affect the game’s outcome Saturday, so he’ll look to remedy the issue before it festers any further.
“We need to coach it better; maybe it was a lack of concentration,” O’Brien said. “I will do my best to get these guys focused on Monday and get those things corrected."