Pass-interference penalties plague Buckeyes

12:18 p.m Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 Journal-News Sports
Ohio State’s Jordan Fuller tackles UNLV’s Kendal Keys on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

Las Vegas odds-makers favored the Ohio State Buckeyes by 31 ½ points two weeks ago against Army. Last week against UNLV, they were 40 ½-point favorites. This week, Rutgers is a 28-point underdog at home.

Tougher games await in October and November for Ohio State, but if this season was a water park, the Buckeyes would be floating down the lazy river right now with few cares in the world. They’ll be a big favorite as well when they return to Ohio Stadium on Oct. 7 to play Maryland.

Of course, coaches and players can find reasons to nitpick. Three of the warts on the 54-21 victory Saturday against the Rebels were pass-interference calls against the Buckeyes. Kendall Sheffield was hit with two, and officials whistled Denzel Ward for one.

“We’ve got to get that fixed and move forward,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s technique-related. It’s not effort-related. It’s certainly not talent-related.”

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Ohio State committed one pass interference penalty in 49-21 victory in the season opener against Indiana and two in the 31-16 loss to Oklahoma.

Inexperience has something to do with the problem. Safety Damon Webb is the only returning starter in the secondary. Jordan Fuller is a new starter at safety. Damon Arnette starts at cornerback. Sheffield and Erick Smith are getting significant playing time in the secondary as well.

Webb shrugged off the penalty problem after the UNLV game, saying it’s an issue they can correct.

“Our corners, they play man press,” he said. “They play very physical with their hands. Some of them are going to get a pass-interference call. Our coaches feel that’s going to happen. They’re not on them about getting the pass interference. They’re telling them to keep playing their techniques. We’re going to get better at that, and we’re going to work on that. I don’t feel like it’s a big deal.”

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The Buckeyes rank in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in pass defense (seventh out of 14 teams), allowing 228.3 yards per game. That’s a big improvement from their first two games.

After giving up 420 passing yards to Indiana and 386 to Oklahoma, Ohio State faced an Army offense that attempted only eight passes. The Buckeyes then limited UNLV to 88 yards.

“Definitely, I look at it as a sign of growth,” Webb said. “We’re just trying to get better each and every game as long as the season goes. I feel we got better this past week, and it showed in the game.”