- Said Alsalah/Daily
BY MICHAEL EISENSTEIN
Daily Sports Editor
Published October 27, 2009
In hindsight, it seems like it was almost an omen.
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After announcing that officials would be stricter in enforcing holding, Big Ten coaches watched tape of what would constitute the penalty before the season — and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was shocked.
"By the end of the clip, there were three or four clips you're thinking, 'You've got to be kidding me,' " Rodriguez said Monday. "A guy falls down, a guy loses his balance or he's not as good an athlete, and he gets pancaked and they're calling it holding."
And that's pretty much how Rodriguez felt about the penalties Michigan was called for — and the yellow flags it didn't get — after its 35-10 drubbing at the hands of the 12th-ranked Nittany Lions. It was the most he had vented about penalties at a Monday press conference all year, even though it was a blowout loss that did not hinge on any one call.
"Some of them I understand, when you twist and turn a guy, whatever," Rodriguez said. "But if you've got your hands inside in great position, you're drive blocking a guy and he falls down, because, one, he loses his balance or something, I don't think it should be called holding.
"There is more of a gray area, and there's more frustration, I think, in seeing some of the calls."
Halfway through the third quarter, redshirt junior offensive lineman Steve Schilling was called for holding, which offset a first down on one of the few second-half Wolverine drives that seemed to be gaining momentum. The series ended up as a three-and-out, which stumped the Michigan offense in the decisive 13-point quarter.
Rodriguez's frustration was even more pronounced when discussing another call — one for five men in the backfield on quarterback Denard Robinson's interception-ending drive.
After reviewing the tape Sunday, Rodriguez is positive the offensive lineman "had his head across the midpoint of center, which is what you're supposed to do."
"We'll turn it in to get another interpretation," Rodriguez said. "Some of those calls, you know, you see the official on the opposing sideline, the one that calls it, and they're standing next to their coaches."
The penalty turned out to be somewhat inconsequential — Michigan earned an automatic first down the next play because of a Penn State holding call.
Rodriguez's irritation with what has not been a major weakness this season is somewhat surprising. The Wolverines were called for just five penalties for 33 yards against Penn State, and have been smack in the middle of the conference in average penalty yards per game (46.9). Last season, Michigan wasn't much different, averaging about five yards fewer.
Rodriguez's aggravation stems from the penalties directly affecting the Nittany Lions' ability to score.
Back-to-back false start and delay of game penalties pushed the Wolverines back to their own two-yard line before surrendering a safety. And maybe more importantly, when Robinson's second-quarter pass was intercepted, Penn State wasn't called for having too many men on the field. One Nittany Lion was still running off the field when the ball was snapped.
"But he's still on the field," Rodriguez said. "Generally that's always been called, even if he's running off, so it's a five-yard penalty, whatever. We'll see. There's nothing you can do about it now."
While Rodriguez is certainly right — nothing can be done about it now — penalties will likely have a significant impact against Illinois this weekend.
Just two Big Ten teams have been penalized more than the Fighting Illini (48 times for 444 yards). And Illinois has played one fewer game than every other team but Wisconsin.
If that trend continues, Rodriguez will probably be fuming a bit less about penalties after Saturday's game in Champaign.