When McNeese State and Alcorn State take the field on Saturday, they'll do so with early season reputations they'd rather not have.
Both are among the most penalized teams in the country. McNeese (1-1) has committed the second-most penalties (25) in the Football Championship Subdivision and have the most penalty yards (241) in the classification. Meanwhile, Alcorn (1-1) has been better, but not by much, having committed 16 infractions for 148 yards in two games.
During Monday's Southwestern Athletic Conference coaches teleconference, Alcorn head coach Fred McNair talked about his team's need to cut down penalties.
"The biggest thing is, we've got to be fundamentally sound," McNair said. "I mean, a lot of the penalties coming, we're overstretched or we're not using our feet, we're not running our feet, things of that nature.
"We get a lot of just dumb penalties — guys out of bounds and we're pushing them. We got a penalty this past week, the guy catches the ball and is running the ball out of bounds. The guy is 4 or 5 yards out of bounds and we go up and push him down. Those are the kind of penalties I'm talking about. I'm not talking about the hard-playing, physical penalties that we get. Of course we have to minimize those too, but just the dumb penalties, that's not called for."
McNair cited an example from the last time McNeese and Alcorn played in 2017. With the score tied at 27, the Braves forced McNeese to punt. The Alcorn punt returner picked up the ball on a hop and returned it for a touchdown. But the score was wiped off the board because an Alcorn player had leaped over the McNeese shield, which is an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
So not only was the Braves' go-ahead score nullified, but McNeese got the ball back. Alcorn got the ball back later on in the game but went three-and-out and the Cowboys scored with less than a minute remaining to escape with a 34-27 win.
McNeese decreased its penalty numbers from the first week to the second, going from 16 to nine. Alcorn, meanwhile, not only increased its penalties in its second game, but it happened against Division III Mississippi College.
McNeese head coach Sterlin Gilbert said he sees where some of the issues lie in the penalties and that the coaching staff was looking at how to eliminate them.
"Number one, we identified it," Gilbert said. "The ones that are controllable, especially when you get in those situations, you got an opportunity to get off the field, that we're disciplined in that moment. Those are the things we've got to continue to do.
"The thing about, especially on the defensive side of the ball, we play to the whistle, we're physical, we're right on the edge. There's a fine line there about exactly what's told to those guys."
Gilbert said another major concern is the timing of penalties. In two games, just under half of McNeese's penalties (12 of 25) result in the opposing team picking up a first down.
"Those kind of things, they can't happen," McNair said of the penalties. "We just have to stress it. We can't afford to do that against good teams."