Penalties Continued to Haunt Ohio State in Its Loss to Michigan

By Josh Poloha on November 30, 2022 at 10:10 am
Ryan Day

Ohio State's early-season penalty problem resurfaced in the loss to Michigan last Saturday (and the week prior against Maryland).

The Buckeyes have enough star-studded talent to take down the majority of FBS teams even when they are outcoached, outplayed and outdisciplined. The problem is when Ohio State continues to do those types of things and has self-inflicted penalties against one of the best teams in college football, which the Buckeyes found out last Saturday in their 45-23 loss to Michigan.

In the end, Ohio State's penalty problem that resulted in a bunch of yellow flags being thrown on the field throughout the game resulted in Michigan planting its own flag in the middle of the Block O at the 50-yard line of Ohio Stadium Saturday afternoon, which Ryan Day's team will likely never forget. It was the second year in a row the Buckeyes had a penalty problem in The Game. Ohio State had 10 penalties for 66 yards in its loss at Michigan last season.

“We had too many penalties, and it got us off-schedule,” Day said after Saturday’s loss.

Ohio State had nine penalties for 91 yards in its regular-season finale. Comparatively, Michigan had just five penalties for 31 yards. Let's take a look at each of the Buckeyes' nine penalties throughout the game:

Ohio State's Nine Penalties and Each Drive Resulted In
Game time Down and Distance (Yard Line) Penalty Result of Drive
First quarter, 14:08 remaining 1st-and-10 (OSU 34) False start (Paris Johnson Jr.) Touchdown on the opening drive of the game.
Second quarter, 9:00 4th-and-5 (OSU 43) Defensive holding (Cody Simon) Michigan then starts its drive on its own 30-yard line and scores on a 69-yard touchdown three plays later.
Second quarter, 6:09 2nd-and-6 (UM 24) False start (Dawand Jones) C.J. Stroud throws two straight incompletions following the five-yard penalty and Ohio State punts on 4th-and-11.
Third quarter, 7:52 1st-and-10 (UM 48) Holding (Donovan Jackson) The Buckeyes are forced to punt (on a play that should have been a fake punt) to conclude the drive.
Third quarter, 7:50 1st-and-20 (OSU 42) Unsportsmanlike conduct (Gee Scott Jr.) On the same play that Ohio State was flagged for holding (above), a dead-ball penalty forces the Buckeyes to start their drive with 1st-and-35 on its own 27-yard line after previously being in plus territory.
Third quarter, 6:01 4th-and-5 (UM 43) False start (Mason Arnold) Maybe they just wanted more room for what should have been a fake punt? Three penalties in five plays don't seem ideal.
Fourth quarter, 14:03 3rd-and-10 (OSU 14) Pass interference (Ronnie Hickman) Michigan scores a touchdown three plays later to take a 31-20 lead.
Fourth quarter, 11:46 4th-and-3 (OSU 32) Unsportsmanlike conduct (Javontae Jean-Baptiste) Wolverines begin their drive near midfield following a 40-yard punt that was fair caught at the 28-yard line.
Fourth quarter, 11:37 1st-and-10 (UM 43) Pass interference (Lathan Ransom) 15-yard penalties on back-to-back plays for the Buckeyes. The Wolverines miss a 57-yard field goal.

Indeed, they shot themselves in the foot repeatedly (especially in the second half). It seemed as though many of the nine penalties whistled on the Buckeyes either ended Ohio State drives or helped reinvigorate what was then a sputtering Michigan drive, including the 15-yard personal fouls in the second half. The Wolverines imposed their will throughout the second half of the game with plenty of help from Ohio State's self-inflicted penalties and mental mistakes.

The Buckeyes had six penalties in the second half; Michigan's last penalty of the game came with 17 seconds remaining in the second quarter. That, along with many other things, is one of the many reasons the Wolverines dominated the final two quarters, outscoring the Buckeyes 28-3 in the final 30 minutes of the game.

Ohio State's penalty problem isn't anything new for the 2022 season. In fact, it was something that just resurfaced throughout the final two weeks of the regular season from earlier in the season. The Buckeyes' last two games featured the most penalties and penalty yards they had all season.

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)

“I wouldn't say I'm pleased because we have to have that edge and know where we need to be,” Day said of Ohio State's seven penalties in its season opener.

“I wouldn't say I'm pleased,” Day said following the Week 2 win over Toledo. “We have to continue to have that edge. ... We've got to prove ourselves every week. Areas of improvement, certainly the pantlies is one thing. It's ridiculous.”

Notice a trend?

After combining for 16 penalties for 160 yards in their first two games of the season, the Buckeyes seemed to clean things up throughout much of the third through 10th games of the season, but Ohio State's early-season penalty problem resurfaced again in its final two games of the regular season.

“(The officials) were winding (the clock) fast coming off the sideline. And, you know, one of them I gotta get in faster. Another one that I think C.J. maybe lost the clock. How many did we end up having, 11? Yeah, that's too many," Day said after the win over Maryland. "I don't know if I have a great answer for that. We’ll have to go figure it out and do a little running tomorrow. Coaches run too when there’s penalties. So I’ll have to do a little running, I guess, get a workout in.”

Seems as though Ohio State will be running a lot (again) this week.

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. The number of penalties returned to haunt them against Michigan, with the Buckeyes suffering their first loss of the season and therefore missing out on the Big Ten Championship Game and possibly the College Football Playoff.

Penalties come down to discipline, or lack thereof, and simply just caring about the little things. Things become easier the fewer times one shoots itself in the foot with penalties. There were times the Buckeyes were very disciplined throughout the season, but something happened in the final two games of the regular season and Ohio State continued to make things tougher for themselves, especially in the biggest game of the season to date.

A lack of penalties are one reason why the top three teams in the country are the last three undefeated teams in the country.

Penalties (and Yards) By Top Five Teams CFP Rankings
Team Penalties (FBS Rank) Penalty Yards (FBS Rank)
No. 1 Georgia 54 (T-13th) 565 (T-40th)
No. 2 Michigan 50 (8th) 395 (5th)
No. 3 TCU 56 (T-20th) 564 (39th)
No. 4 USC 79 (T-86th) 736 (103rd)
No. 5 Ohio State 69 (T-53rd) 600 (T-52nd)

Then again, it seems as though Day's teams have had a penalty problem ever since he took over for Urban Meyer in Columbus prior to the 2019 season. Ohio State has never been among the top 49 teams in the country when it comes to penalties per game during his tenure. It’s certainly one of the areas the head coach must figure out and improve upon going forward.

Ohio State Penalties Per Game Under Ryan Day
Season Penalties/Game FBS Rank
2022 5.75 T-53rd
2021 6.5 79th
2020 6.1 70th
2019 5.8 50th

Imagine how good a team would be that had Ohio State’s talent and Michigan's discipline. One could certainly dream, but the lack of discipline only leaves the Buckeyes with more questions than answers as things currently stand.

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