COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s hard to be too concerned after a 54-21 win that could have been a much-bigger margin, but Ohio State’s defensive backs will hear about the penalties they racked up during an otherwise productive day.
Pass defense is already a sensitive issue around Columbus given the standard of previous years combined with two horrible games to open the season. Ohio State was last in the country in passing yards allowed after the Oklahoma loss in Week 2 and didn’t get a chance against pass-averse Army to show improvement.
The Buckeyes were much improved against a UNLV offense that came in ranked in the top 10 nationally in total offense. The Rebels completed 11 of 20 passes for 88 yards, and 2 of those 9 incompletions were Ohio State interceptions.
But equally as noticeable as that success was a string of penalties from the cornerbacks. Ohio State got rung up 3 times for 40 yards, including a pass interference that negated an interception and ultimately led to UNLV’s first score. Against Oklahoma, the Buckeyes were flagged twice for 30 yards and one extended a drive that led to an Oklahoma score that put the Sooners up 24-13.
Urban Meyer made clear in his postgame news conference on Saturday that there needs to be improvement in that area.
“Terrible,” he said. “It’s awful.”
What’s most concerning for Ohio State is that it’s not an isolated problem. Cornerback Kendall Sheffield drew 2 flags against UNLV, and cornerback Denzel Ward committed the one that negated the pick. Against Oklahoma, the flags went against safety Damon Webb and cornerback Damon Arnette.
Though some calls have seemed borderline or questionable, hoping the calls go their way next time isn’t an option.
“Sometimes it might not be pass interference, but if it looks like it, refs might throw the flag,” Webb said.
No assistant coaches spoke after the game, but defensive coordinator and safeties coach Greg Schiano recently summed up the staff’s philosophy regarding player mistakes. A few days after the Oklahoma game, he said the coaches needed to do more to prevent missed assignments from happening.
“When players make mistakes, it’s coaching,” he said. “We have to coach better.”
It would follow that the same holds true here, and Webb seemed confident that the Buckeyes will get it turned around. Though it’s been popular on Twitter to pin it on defenders not turning around, faceguarding — not making a play on the ball or not turning to look at the ball — itself is not a penalty in college football.
Part of the problem, Webb said, came from the fact that defenders are apt to do anything possible to prevent a player from catching the ball, thus leading to illegal contact. But the root of that issue is getting out of position in the first place and having to scramble to make a play.
For the Buckeyes to avoid penalties, that needs to change.
“I don’t feel like we’re doing anything wrong, just a couple of technique things we can fix,” Webb said. “I wouldn’t consider it that frustrating. We’re going to work on it. We’re definitely going to get better.”