Minimizing Penalties Will Be Key if Ohio State Wants to Upset Georgia

By Josh Poloha on December 28, 2022 at 10:10 am
Ryan Day

Penalties have been a problem for Ohio State, which could be an advantage for Georgia if it continues in Saturday night's College Football Playoff semifinal.

In a season that Ohio State was undefeated up until its regular-season finale, it was easy to look past the Buckeyes' flaws simply because they had yet to lose a game. Even when looking at the big picture, the record still seemed to stick out the most, no matter what the statistic was. Then, when Ohio State lost to Michigan in Columbus – the Buckeyes' second straight loss to the Wolverines after nearly two decades of dominance – all of their flaws and inconsistencies seemed to come to the surface, many of which became very noticeable.

One of the many flaws that have been discussed following that disappointing loss to Michigan was how undisciplined Ohio State has been of late, especially in terms of its number of penalties. Something that seemed to really catch up to them in their first loss of the season.

The same cannot be said for Georgia. Of the four teams – Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State – that are in the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes are much different from the other three in terms of penalties this season.

Penalties (and Yards) by CFP Teams
Team Penalties Per Game (FBS Rank) Penalty Yards Per Game (FBS Rank)
No. 1 Georgia 4.46 (12th) 46 (34th)
No. 2 Michigan 4.08 (8th) 32.31 (4th)
No. 3 TCU 4.62 (19th) 46.85 (38th)
No. 4 Ohio State 5.75 (T-51st) 50 (T-51st)

Notice the difference between Ohio State and the other three?  A lack of penalties is one reason why the Bulldogs, Wolverines, and Horned Frogs are the top three teams in the CFP rankings.

Georgia, specifically, has been among the more disciplined teams in the country.

Ohio State Penalties (and Penalty Yards) by Game
Game Penalties (Yards)
Week 1 vs. Notre Dame 7 (75)
Week 2 vs. Arkansas State 9 (85)
Week 3 vs. Toledo 1 (5)
Week 4 vs. Wisconsin 3 (27)
Week 5 vs. Rutgers 6 (41)
Week 6 at Michigan State 4 (49)
Week 8 vs. Iowa 5 (45)
Week 9 at Penn State 8 (60)
Week 10 at Northwestern 3 (20)
Week 11 vs. Indiana 3 (15)
Week 12 at Maryland 11 (97)
Week 13 vs. Michigan 9 (91)
Georgia Penalties (and Penalty Yards) by Game
Game Penalties (Yards)
Week 1 vs. Oregon 7 (75)
Week 2 vs. Samford 4 (25)
Week 3 at South Carolina 3 (20)
Week 4 vs. Kent State 2 (25)
Week 5 at Missouri 5 (55)
Week 6 vs. Auburn 4 (45)
Week 7 vs. Vanderbilt 3 (29)
Week 8 vs. Florida 4 (40)
Week 9 vs. Tennessee 6 (60)
Week 10 at Mississippi State 6 (66)
Week 11 at Kentucky 4 (55)
Week 12 vs. Georgia Tech 6 (70)
SEC Championship Game vs. LSU 4 (33)

The 11 penalties against Maryland were the most penalties Ohio State has had in a single game since 2019. The Buckeyes proceeded to follow that up with their second-most penalties of the season against Michigan. Meanwhile, Georgia seemed to clean things up the rest of the season after a season-high seven penalties in its season opener.

Penalties won't be the most significant factor in determining who wins the primetime matchup on New Year's Eve, but they will influence who advances to the national championship. The more disciplined team will make things easier for itself on both sides of the ball – though as the table below shows, how many penalties Ohio State has doesn’t always correlate with whether the Buckeyes actually win a postseason game.

Number of Penalties in Postsesaon Games During Ryan Day Era
Game No. of Penalties (Yards)
23-29 Loss to Clemson (2019) 8 (77)
49-28 Win over Clemson (2020) 9 (95)
24-55 Loss to Alabama (2020) 4 (29)
48-45 Win over Utah (2022) 7 (70)

With over a month to prepare for its College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Georgia, fundamentals and discipline have been one of the many things Ryan Day and the coaching staff have focused on. He believes the Buckeyes have improved in that area ahead of Saturday night's game.

"The whole month has been a really good month for us as a team. We've got a lot of really good work done," Day said.

Ohio State will have to play nearly perfect if it wants to upset top-ranked Georgia, the reigning defending national champs who haven't lost a game in nearly 13 months (24-41 loss to Alabama, Dec. 4, 2021). With the matchup essentially in Georgia’s backyard in Atlanta, the crowd won’t be favorable for Ohio State. It will be key for the Buckeyes to focus and minimize the self-inflicted penalties to have a shot at an upset over the No. 1 Bulldogs.

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