The frustration was hard for Oklahoma to hide on early Saturday afternoon in Ames, Iowa. On its first three defensive series, it thought it had forced three-and-outs. All three series were extended by third-down penalties.
“It’s very frustrating. Some of the calls, I don’t know what they’re looking at,” defensive end Chuka Ndulue. “At the same time, as a defense, every time that happens, we need to look at each other and say ‘all right, just move on to the next play.’ Don’t dwell on that, just focus on what you’ve got to do. It affects us for about three seconds, and then after the game we talk about it.”
What did the discussion center on?
“Like, what are they looking at?” Ndulue added. “At the same time, it already happened. You can’t change the past.”
Penalties haven’t been a major issue for the 14th-ranked Sooners (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) this season. They’re averaging 5.88 per game, which is only about 2 1/2 less than national leader Navy (3.44). OU’s average, 48.38 penalty yards, isn’t crippling either.
OU coach Bob Stoops isn’t concerned about the penalties his team has committed.
“To me, what matters most are the non-playing penalties,” he said. “We’re not having procedures. We’re not having delay of games. We’re not lining up offsides — things you can control. When you’re playing, and you get a call or don’t get a call, those kinds of things, that’s the way it goes. The things you can control — process at the line — we’re not making those kinds of foolish mistakes, and that’s positive. We still haven’t had many overall.”
Stoops took some heat last week for pointing out the Sooners haven’t gotten a lot of judgement calls this season. Complaining about officiating rarely looks good in any context.
However, the Iowa State game illustrated Stoops’ point. Five of the Cyclones’ first downs came on OU penalties. Corey Nelson’s obvious facemask penalty on Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz was hard to miss. However, the illegal hands to the face by cornerback Demontre Hurst and the pass interference flag on Gabe Lynn were all judgement rulings.
“It was disappointing,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “I thought we had really good coverage on a couple of them, too. It’s always frustrating. Those were the calls that were made, and we were able to overcome them, which was the most pleasing thing to me. We didn’t let them bother us. We came back and shut them back down.”
What’s alarming is the rate OU’s giving up first downs via penalty (12) to receiving them (4) and the amount of penalties its opponents have racked up. In the last two games, Notre Dame and Iowa State combined for just three penalties for 15 yards. All of them were before the snap. That means over the course of 291 plays from scrimmage there hasn’t been one holding call, pass interference, defensive holding or anything else called against an opponent.
It could have been a case of officials letting teams play. Each officiating crew is different. Each game is different. One thing has been consistent.
“The fact we get called on the judgement ones, and they don’t,” Bob Stoops asked on Monday. “It’s just the way it is.”