Elliott fed up with dumb penalties, threatens to bench culprits as UVA is most penalized team in ACC

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Tony Elliott is fed up with his team’s lack of discipline, and is considering benching some of his players to get his message across.

In Saturday night’s loss to Duke, key penalties — some of them needless personal fouls — cost the Cavaliers dramatically. The most egregious of those came on the Blue Devils’ first scoring drive.

After a surprise quick-kick, pooch punt by quarterback Brennan Armstrong, Elliott had the Blue Devils right where he wanted them, pinned down at their 13-yard line, in the rain, hoping for a three-and-out or a turnover that could give UVA great field position.

Instead, Duke drove 87 yards, aided by 30 yards in back-to-back penalties that gave the Devils a first down at the Virginia 19. Those penalties were personal fouls on defensive tackles Aaron Faumui and Ben Smiley. Duke scored on the next play for a 7-0 lead.

UVA gave Duke short fields on the following two possessions when it had a punt blocked (Duke took over at its own 42) and a fumbled kickoff return (Duke took over at the UVA 40). The Devils scored touchdowns as a result for a 21-0 lead and never lost control of the game.

There was a roughing-the-passer call on Jack Camper that extended one of those drives, and another personal-foul (hands to the face) penalty on Smiley later in the game.

In all, Virginia was penalized six times for 87 yards (Duke was called for only three penalties and 38 yards).

The Cavaliers are tied with Syracuse for the most penalty yards in the ACC (362 yards and 72.4 yards per game). While Syracuse has been penalized more often (50 times compared to 37 for UVA), the flags on the Cavaliers have been more severe penalties. Virginia is No. 114 out of 131 teams in FBS football in penalty yardage.

Elliott was fuming over the lack of discipline exhibited by his team, which fell to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the ACC. The penalties, on top of mental mistakes, caused the coach to air his frustration.

“It’s like I told the coaches, that hey, if I continue to see it, I’m just not going to play guys,” Elliott told media after the game. “It seems like there’s the same culprits that are coming out, and if they don’t get it corrected — and they’re not going to have much longer — then I’m going to start making decisions and I’m not going to play guys. I don’t want that to happen, because there’s a bunch of good young men in our locker room.

“There’s a lot they have to learn on how to be a team, how to win as a team, know how to play disciplined football, and I want them to do that. But if we continue to have these problems then ultimately I’m going to have to make decisions, because the one thing I’m not going to sacrifice is the core values of this program.”

Elliott said it’s embarrassing. He went on to reveal that as soon as he arrived to the Virginia program, he outlawed fighting in practice.

“Most programs allow you to fight,” he said. “I don’t let the guys fight in practice because I don’t need to waste time. You can’t do it in a game. We need to focus on fighting the six or seven seconds of a play. Football is a game of emotion, I get that, but it’s controlled aggression. You’ve got to be under control, you’ve got to stay locked in.

“Just don’t be selfish enough to say, ‘You know what, it’s about me in this moment and I’m going to push a guy after the snap, or I want to talk a little bit more trash,’ to where you get some type of penalty. That cost us.”