The Ohio State football team (7-0, 3-0) won its 19th straight game Saturday, beating Iowa (4-3, 1-2) 34-24, but did so without redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby for a majority of the game. Roby was ejected from the game late in the first quarter for a targeting personal foul.
Boos rained down from the Ohio Stadium crowd after the call was made against Roby, which disqualified him from the game. It was the first time an OSU player has been called for targeting in 2013.
The personal foul was called after Roby made an above-the-shoulders hit on Iowa senior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz at the end of an 11-yard catch. The foul, which also resulted in a 15-yard penalty, was automatically reviewed by instant replay and ultimately confirmed to be a targeting penalty.
At least one OSU player thought Roby’s disqualification was unjustified.
“I think it was a real bad call,” junior middle linebacker Curtis Grant said after Saturday’s game. “He led with his shoulder … your head is connected to your body so it’s going to be in there on the hit. I just thought it was a bad call.”
By definition, however, Roby’s hit was a penalty because he was ruled to have initiated contact with Fiedorowicz’s head or neck area, who was ruled to be a defenseless receiver.
Rule 9-1-4 of the NCAA rulebook states “no player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer refrained from commenting the penalty after Saturday’s game.
“I got fined $30,000 one time for going after an official, so I’m not going to do that,” Meyer said.
Roby, though, took to Twitter after heading to the locker room.
“We still gon get this W, believe that,” the tweet read.
Redshirt-senior safety C.J. Barnett might not have agreed with the penalty, but he said he understood why the call was made.
“I’m not a referee, happy that I’m not,” Barnett said. “From my perspective, I think it was a great hit. It sucks that it had to get him thrown out of the game, but player safety is the most important thing.”
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said the Buckeyes, who were trailing Iowa by a score of 7-3 at the time, had to keep their focus on making a comeback in the game and not on Roby’s disqualification.
“The officials made the call they did. We don’t have to agree with it,” Fickell said. “At that point in time, we were a little worried and a little focused on something else.”
Fickell said OSU worked on how to avoid targeting penalties in training camp prior to the season, but said the coaching staff will evaluate Roby’s penalty to determine if the players need to be taught more about how to avoid targeting penalties.
“We got to go back and see what we can do better and how we can coach our guys up better to make sure that things like that don’t happen,” Fickell said.
Sophomore cornerback Armani Reeves, who started the first two games of the season in Roby’s place after he was suspended one game for his involvement in a incident at a Bloomington, Ind., bar in July, filled in for Roby following the disqualification.
Although Reeves was victimized on two of the Hawkeye passing touchdowns, his defensive teammates said they have confidence in his ability to step in for Roby.
“He goes so hard in practice, he’s a really good player,” sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry said. “Like any other young guy, he makes some mistakes but I count on him to do his job.”
Roby’s disqualification left the Buckeyes with only two regular starters in their secondary, Barnett and junior cornerback Doran Grant, with senior safety Christian Bryant already out after breaking his ankle in the Buckeyes’ win against Wisconsin Sept. 28.
Without those players, the Buckeyes’ defense had its share of struggles. The Buckeyes allowed 245 passing yards and 375 total yards of offense and allowed the Hawkeyes to convert on eight of 13 third-down conversion attempts.
But while the OSU defense gave up 17 points in the first half, including a touchdown drive on Iowa’s first possession of the game when Roby was still on the field, sophomore tight end Jake Duzey’s third-quarter touchdown was the only scoring play of the second half for the Hawkeyes. As a result, the Buckeyes were able to overcome a 17-10 halftime deficit to win the game.
Perry said the toughest aspect of the disqualification was losing Roby’s vocal leadership on the field, but said Barnett stepped up in that capacity.
Fickell said the biggest impact of losing Roby was not putting Reeves in the lineup, but that it gave the Buckeyes one less defensive back to work with in third-down situations where they often play with six or more defensive backs on the field.
“Our third corner (Reeves) is really our dime guy so it put us in a little bit of a bind and we had to regroup and gather ourselves,” Fickell said. “Reality was in the first half was we didn’t get them in a lot of those third down situations we needed to get them into.”
Nonetheless, junior defensive tackle Joel Hale said he did not think about the impact of the penalty when he was on the field because it was a call he had no control over.
“I don’t have any say in it,” Hale said of the penalty. “It is what it is. Next man up, that’s what we got to do.”
Since his penalty occurred in the first half of Saturday’s game, Roby will not be required to sit out any additional time for his disqualification, so he is expected back in the lineup when the Buckeyes play Penn State at 8 p.m. next Saturday in Ohio Stadium.