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Rockets need to clean up their discipline to beat Miami

09/19/2017, 3:30pm EDT

Toledo is the most penalized team in the country

University of Toledo QB Logan Woodside throws the ball against Bowling Green State University during the first quarter of a football game Saturday, October 15, 2016, a the Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio. BLADE

Like splurging for a muscle car during a midlife crisis, a lot of horsepower can cover up many issues.

The University of Toledo football team knows this well.

The Rockets played last weekend with the Glass Bowl’s cannon aimed squarely at their foot — spotting Tulsa team a full field and a half in penalties — and still lived to tell of a comeback win.

It was riveting, fun, and ... entirely unsustainable.

If this promising Rockets team has any chance Saturday of stunning 14th-ranked Miami — and, honestly, winning the Mid-American Conference — it is time for them to get smarter. 

Through three weeks, Toledo (3-0) is the least disciplined team in the country, all but rebranding as a 501(c)3.

The Rockets give away yards like they’re a radio contest hotline. Say what you will about quick-trigger officials, but the bottom line is crews from two different leagues have rained down penalties on them the past two weeks. Counting only games matching FBS opponents, the Rockets are averaging a national-high 14.5 penalties for 132.5 yards per game (29 for 265 in two contests). The next-most penalized team — Memphis — averages 102.5 yards of handouts.

Some penalties are understandable — a pass interference call here, a borderline late hit there — but too many of Toledo’s are plain unthinking. The Rockets’ ledger includes six offsides calls and six personal fouls.

Is this a small-sample-size aberration? (The Rockets were the 32nd-most flagged team last year, which obviously is not great but very manageable.)

Or do all the yellow flags equal a big red one?

“It's unacceptable,” coach Jason Candle said. “We've got to get it fixed.”

Of course, that’s nothing he did not already know. Candle spoke of a similar need last week after Toledo was penalized 14 times for 110 yards in its 37-24 win at Nevada. The Rockets then went out and got flagged 15 times — 10 in the first half — for 155 yards against Tulsa, with Candle himself helping account for the increase.

Candle was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for confronting an official in the first quarter.

He had the right to be mad. After Toledo was called for holding and an illegal shift on consecutive plays, the official stood over the ball until the play clock almost dripped to zero, forcing the Rockets to burn a timeout. But still.

“I thought the 25-second clock should have been reset,” Candle said. “I didn't understand why he was standing over the ball. Quite honestly, all I did is ask what the deal was. If that's addressing an official the wrong way, then I certainly was in the wrong.”

Half seriously, I asked Candle if his own penalty — which made it 1st-and-40 and was followed by a pick-six that helped put the Rockets in an early 21-point hole — undercut his message of discipline to the team.

“Yeah, it's unacceptable,” he said. “The coach can't get an unsportsmanlike penalty. I take full ownership for that. That's something you can't do. Officials have tough jobs. There's human error in all of this, whether it's a player or an official. You'd love to pick the officials for every game, but you can't. That's not your job. Your job is to play, your job is to coach, your job is to own your mistakes and fix them, and that’s what we’ll do.”

That’s just the answer you would expect from Candle, who never has made excuses and — to his great credit — did not start now.

“Whatever you see on the stat sheet, we earned,” he said. “We can't be happy about 10 yards per play on offense and gain a million yards and just act like penalties don't exist on the stat sheet.”

For the record, I think Candle is a very good coach and a class representative of Toledo. He will get this fixed. 

None of this is to give the impression of dysfunction. Just the opposite, the reason we hammer the penalties is because the Rockets have such a good thing going — OK, we’ll wait and see on the defense — it would be too bad to see something so within their control undermine it. 

The guess here is the Rockets have the offensive horsepower to hurl a scare into Miami.

You just hope they give themselves a shot. 

Somewhere other than in the foot. 

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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