UCLA and USC are separated by 13 miles of freeway. The area might be called Ground Zero for penalties in major college football.
The Bruins and Trojans are among the most penalized teams in the nation. Both are members of the Pac-12 Conference, which is the most penalized league in the nation. Seven of the 20 most-penalized teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision are from the Pac-12.
USC leads Pac-12 teams with 71 penalties, the sixth-most in the FBS. Washington State, California and Oregon State have 68 and UCLA, Oregon and Colorado have 63.
The performance of Pac-12 officials is an issue of concern that is being discussed privately by some athletic program administrators. Meanwhile, the conference stands ready to punish anyone who publicly criticizes bad calls or non-calls.
At UCLA, the aftermath of Saturday’s 40-37 double-overtime victory over Colorado included some tiptoeing around the subject. The Bruins were penalized 14 times for 121 yards.
Asked whether any of the calls caused raised eyebrows while watching the game tape, quarterback Brett Hundley said, “We got the win and we’re happy with that, but there are always calls that you look back at and say, ‘Ah, man, was that really necessary?’”
Hundley seemed resigned to it, saying, “They are going to make the calls. We have to play and get through it.”
UCLA Coach Jim Mora was even more cautious Saturday. Mora said he would not comment about the penalties, but added, “I think there are things that people need to do in regards to penalties.” He finished by saying, “I mean, that’s a joke.”
Coaches are reluctant to publicly criticize Pac-12 referees because it could cost them. Colorado Coach Mike MacIntyre was reprimanded and fined $10,000 after he chased referees off the field following a 36-31 loss to Oregon State.
The Buffaloes lost an interception because of a pass interference call. In his postgame comments, MacIntyre would not talk about the call except to say the play was a “huge momentum changer.” But the damage was done.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said MacIntyre’s behavior was “unacceptable.” Tony Corrente, the conference’s coordinator of officials, resigned a few days later citing personal and professional reasons.
The conference said its officiating coordinator reviews every play. However, a team has no say in which officials are assigned to its games.
During UCLA’s game against Colorado on Saturday, Mora screamed until red-faced at game officials when UCLA lost interceptions on back-to-back plays because of penalties.
Penalties can change the flow of the game drastically, Hundley said. “Your defense holds on third down and they get a fresh set of downs,” he said. “Your offense holds and you could be second and long, third and long. It’s hard to win games like that.”
Hundley had a 13-yard run on a scramble wiped out against Colorado when center Jake Brendel was called for holding. Television replays showed Brendel pass blocking but not holding.
UCLA players said they were trying to figure out how to fix things on their own.
“It’s getting kind of redundant,” receiver Jordan Payton said. “We have to figure it out. We talk about it, we talk about it, we talk about it. Now it’s, ‘How do we put it into action?’”
Changing conferences isn’t an option.
UCLA faces Arizona on Saturday in a key South Division game. The Bruins have two Pac-12 losses and the Wildcats one. Said Hundley: “For us to get to our goal, which is the Pac-12 championship, we have to beat Arizona.” … UCLA and Washington will kick off at 4 p.m. Nov. 8 at Husky Stadium in a game that will be televised on Fox Sports 1.