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How Maryland football is addressing its penalty problem

Maryland has committed 31 penalties through three games but is doing what it can to correct the issue.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Charlotte Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, a couple days after Maryland’s narrow win over SMU, Maryland football head coach Mike Locksley and his staff created a video they presented to the players in a team meeting.

The video started out as a collection of every single penalty Maryland committed against SMU, all 15 of them. Through three games, Maryland has committed the second-most penalties in all of college football — out of 131 eligible FBS teams.

The presentation then moved into a montage of the written and spoken commentary about the lack of discipline the team has, including various tweets.

The words “thug mentality” were mentioned in one particular tweet shown, according to Locksley.

“Those are hurtful words and I played the video and let them see what people thought of our program,” Locksley said.

That’s one way Locksley is addressing Maryland’s penalty problem, one that was prevalent last year — with Maryland committing the second-most penalties in the Big Ten — and has crept into this year through the early portion of the season.

Maryland has an experienced group — it returns 15 starters on both sides of the ball — so the expectation heading into this season was that the Terps would be a more disciplined group. For whatever reason, that hasn’t been the case.

Whether it’s a false start on fourth-and-short or an unsportsmanlike conduct call, the Terps have yet to show discipline for long stretches.

“We’re playing against two teams every game we play because of the amount of yards we’re giving them,” sophomore safety Dante Trader Jr. said.

Many of those penalties have been on the offensive line, usually either a holding or false start call. For an experienced and improved position group, it’s certainly surprising. While quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has been visibly frustrated at times, as a leader, he’s remained encouraging.

“We all got to get back to neutral. It’s part of the game. ... You always want to encourage your O-line and they did a tremendous job of us running the ball and me being protected,” Tagovailoa said. “Just keep going, keep fighting and learning from your mistakes, too.”

Locksley admits that as the leader of the program, this falls on him. But he wants people to realize that these are kids, and no matter how well they are taught, mistakes happen.

“As a parent, you send your kids and they have a foundation of how you raised them. Sometimes they don't act in character, and what do you do, kick them out of your house? You punish them. So we handle punishments and we deal with it inside-out,” Locksley said. “People that have kids understand what it’s like to have them go out on the field and maybe play outside what you’ve trained them to do.”

“I’ve got to get them to understand that the name on the front of the jersey represents us and we got to continue to work to do better,” he continued.

While we won’t find out for sure until Maryland takes the field on Saturday, Locksley’s message seems to have been heard loud and clear.

“We got to do this for him [Locksley],” Trader said. “He’s not out there creating penalties. They’re going to put it on him because he’s the head coach, he’s the head of the snake. We kind of feel like we let him down in that sense.”

Beyond the motivation in the meeting room, accountability on the practice field is another way Maryland is conveying the message.

“If you get an offsides, you're coming off the field. If you get an unsportsmanlike or you’re talking to the other side of the team, you’re coming off the field and getting checked immediately. As players we got to take accountability for things like that so it doesn’t happen on Saturdays,” Trader said.

“We know it’s not who we are as a team,” junior wide receiver Rakim Jarrett said. “I think it’s just a matter of each player locking in and doing their job and not making any mistakes before the play even starts.”

Maryland doesn’t have a lot of time to clean it up. With Big Ten play starting this weekend, if this trend continues it will be hard for the Terps to compete with the best teams in the conference.

Maryland believes it will get the mess cleaned up. Time will tell if that’s the case.