My God. It's full of stars.
That's quite a lineup. Look at that cavalcade of tal...wait, is that the cast of Friends from 20 years ago? And Hannah Montana? Maverick from Top Gun? Hova behind Okudah? Yes, yes, yes and yes, sports fans.
That insane photo makes as much sense as the über-talented 2018 Buckeyes committing 116 penalties within a single season under the guidance of an all-star cast of coaches. It shouldn't exist. That cannot happen, and the shiny trophies that arrived right at the conclusion of what was otherwise a fairly unenjoyable journey shouldn't distract us from what did.
Behold, our rancid potato salad padlocked port-o-potty family picnic dysentery from 2018:
Let's punt the three distractions now (and have Terry McLaurin down them at the MSU 1-yard line)
- Ohio State struggled against its three least disciplined opponents, all in the back half of the schedule
- B1G refs are officiating a completely different sport than the rest of the FBS
- Ohio State was objectively on the wrong side of mystifying officiating against Michigan and Northwestern. The season was 14 games long. That was just two of them.
If you'd like to see what discipline can accomplish, Ohio State's final two opponents of the season combined for fewer flags and penalty yards in 2018 than Ohio State committed by itself. There were maybe six players on Northwestern and Washington's combined rosters that could crack the Buckeyes' starting lineup. They did not reach their respective conference championship games on talent alone.
Try and imagine what might have happened if Ohio State didn't have a generational passing attack or reliable field-flipping special teams play. Try and imagine what might have happened if they demonstrated just average penalty discipline, and what that might have meant for a rushing game that ran in place too often last season - or that defense, which...right. Abundant penalties just may have been another symptom of the 2018 Buckeyes' underlying chronic disease.
Last year's Ohio State team was the 11th-most penalized one of the current/closing decade, which means 1,123 football programs have been able to complete entire seasons with fewer penalties than the No.3 team in the final rankings did en route to going 13-1. This was not a one-off performance, either. Just in case you have already forgotten how much laundry the 2017 Buckeyes accumulated:
The 2018 Buckeyes added 19 more flags for 212 yards to that in the same number of games.
This is now a trend, so it's worth getting loud about this football crisis in Ohio State's fancy glass house on Olentangy that's lined with trophy shelves and flat screens playing adulation videos on a loop. The Buckeyes only recently reached the bottom of this bad list. They shouldn't be okay with staying there any longer than they already have.
Our tribe might be the most demanding one in the sport, but none of us is expecting 50 touchdown passes in a season. Going undefeated is something every team's fans dream of out loud, so that's not really an expectation for Ohio State fans as much as it is within the realm of annual possibility for a blessed program.
The Buckeyes committed 19 penalties for 181 yards & an ejection in their two blowout losses to Purdue and Iowa.
Ohio State fans expect their team to be able to run the ball and stop other teams from running it on a regular basis. They expect, like, 5.5 penalties per game, which would have been good enough to rank 65th in the FBS last season. That was Georgia in 2018. It was also Illinois. Playing cleaner isn't a cure-all. It is a difference-maker.
Committing 5.5 penalties per game can change the optics for a fickle playoff committee that has kept the Buckeyes at the doorstep in each of the past two seasons. Perfect is the enemy of good enough, and Ohio State has been good enough to play in the college football playoff in all five years of its existence. Blemishes happen. The copious opportunities the Buckeyes give officials to hold them back are more than just blemishes.
All that separates a program like Ohio State from always getting in - like Alabama and Clemson now do - and being left out is fine-tuning. The talent, coaching and resources have been there all along. Defensive scheme last season was a hiccup and left Columbus with its departed stewards. Run-blocking is fixable everywhere, let alone at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes committed 19 penalties for 181 yards and an ejection (of their best player) in two blowout losses to Purdue and Iowa, including some game-changers; GIFs above related. This volume of flags has both a measurable and psychological impact on a team, especially on the road. Fine-tuning field discipline may not only flip a few game narratives, it can alter how the team is judged at the end of the season.
And that judgement has kept the Buckeyes in consolation prize games the past two seasons.