The fourth thing that can happen when you pass

Ponders passes periodically portend pass interference penalties. (Doug Beng/Getty Images North America)

Ponder's passes periodically portend pass interference penalties. (Doug Beng/Getty Images North America)

I’ve been working this week on a lengthy piece about wide receiver effectiveness in the ACC – something similar to what we’ve already done with running backs. That post should go up some time next week (spoiler alert: the best receiver in the ACC is exactly who you think it is).

In the interim, though, I’ve been thinking about pass interference penalties. Noted public speaker Woody Hayes once said three things can happen when you pass the football, and two of them are bad: incompletions, interceptions and completions.

He didn’t mention interference penalties (did they exist when Woody coached?), which can be positive and pivotal. They often come on long passes where offenses get their biggest chunks of yardage, or on long-yardage downs, where they keep defenses from getting off the field.

My original intent was to look at which receivers draw the most interference calls, but play-by-play logs are spotty on listing intended receivers on interference plays. That left the quarterbacks, and there are a couple who’ve shown a knack for drawing 15-yard flags this year.

QB School PI calls Accepted Yardage
Christian Ponder Florida State 8 6 52
Russell Wilson N.C. State 5 4 55
Thaddeus Lewis Duke 3 3 32
Jameel Sewell Virginia 3 3 37
Dave Shinskie Boston College 3 3 45
Tyrod Taylor Virginia Tech 3 3 23
Kyle Parker Clemson 3 3 32
Josh Nesbitt Georgia Tech 3 2 19
Chris Turner Maryland 2 2 30
Riley Skinner Wake Forest 2 2 30
T.J. Yates North Carolina 1 1 15
Jacory Harris Miami 1 1 15

I don’t know if we actually learn anything valuable from the fact that Ponder has gotten eight pass interference calls, while Yates only has one. If Ponder (or Florida State as a team) had led the conference in interference flags drawn for two or three years running, then we’d have something interesting. Maybe we can study that down the road.

The penalties themselves can be significant. Ponder’s interference flags basically get FSU an extra first down each game. If that first down sustains a late drive in a one-score game, it’s huge. If it delays a punt in the first quarter, not so much.

Still, Ponder’s quietly having a nice season, and I’m happy to put him atop any sort of conference leader board. Florida State’s woe is overshadowing his good play.

Penalty flags can really slow down a game. With all those PI calls, I bet FSU games have been pretty Ponder-ous affairs this year.

I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.


  • When I told Jeremy the subject of this piece, he guessed Miami’s Harris would lead the conference in interference flags drawn. You’d guess that more long passes lead to more interference penalties, and Miami has a decidedly vertical passing game. But Harris has drawn only one interference penalty this year.
  • Meanwhile, the Hurricanes lead the conference in defensive pass interference penalties with seven, all of them accepted. None of them have been particularly damaging; the worst probably came on third-and-goal from the 6 early in the Virginia Tech game. On the following play, Ryan Williams scored the Hokies’ first touchdown.
  • Most damaging pass interference penalty of the year: In the fourth quarter of its game against Southern Mississippi, Virginia was nursing a 10-point lead. The Cavs had USM in third-and-37 at their own 35-yard line. Safety Corey Mosley interfered with receiver DeAndre Brown, giving the Golden Eagles new life. Southern Miss subsequently scored, cutting the UVa lead to three points en route to a comeback win.
  • As noted above, play-by-play logs don’t always tell you who the receiver is on a PI penalty. They don’t necessarily indicate the penalized defender, either. I found the receiver and defender on roughly 80 percent of 56 interference calls in games involving ACC teams this year.With those caveats, only Miami safety Vaughn Telemaque has committed multiple PI penalties. He’s been flagged twice.
  • Several receivers have drawn multiple inference flags: Jarmon Fortson (3) and Rod Owens (2) of Florida State, Dyrell Roberts of Virginia Tech (2), the great Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech (2) , Connor Vernon of Duke (2) and Jacoby Ford of Clemson (2).

One Response to The fourth thing that can happen when you pass

  1. Jim says:

    To draw a PI call requires that the QB get the pass reasonably close to the receiver…may explain why TJ Yates hasn’t gotten many calls downfield.

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