Ohio State has had three punts blocked this season — tying for the second most in OSU history — and coach Urban Meyer is trying to figure out ways to eliminate those potentially disastrous plays.
But the unit is having more problems than just shoring up its protection schemes.
Punter Ben Buchanan is eighth in the Big Ten with a 39.4-yard average, a significant drop from the last two seasons when he averaged 41.3 and 41.0.
Meyer had Buchanan trying some rugby-style kicks against Penn State to pick up some added roll, and the senior from Westerville did uncork a 50-yarder. But he finished with a 41-yard average on five boots and had one blocked.
“We’re struggling a little bit with hang time, so you want to ‘free release’ people,” Meyer said, meaning turning some of the punt team loose to cover the kick. “Any time you free release, you’re opening up the flood gates for some protection issues.
“Just flat punting the ball is not very good, and he’s actually pretty good at doing our quarter roll like we did. … So we’re in a little dilemma right now.”
Injuries haven’t helped. Meyer said he believes the punt team hasn’t had the same 11 players all season.
“The No. 1 thing we need is consistency in who’s playing,” he said. “It’s been like a turnstile every week because of injuries. We’re just trying to solidify who’s in there.”
The Buckeyes had five punts blocked in 1950, and four of those came in the infamous Snow Bowl against Michigan. They also had three blocked in 2000.
On board: The NCAA made sweeping changes this week that will punish programs more severely for breaking rules. Offenders will face longer postseason bans and fines.
Head coaches also will be held accountable if a staff member commits an infraction, unless they can prove they were unaware. The coaches will face suspensions up to a full season.
“I’m fully supportive of it,” Meyer said. “I appreciate the NCAA revisiting the discipline structure and penalty structure because it was antiquated, and it was time to make a change.
“I’m in full support of very stringent penalties and keeping or even restoring the integrity of college football. … Throughout history, the only way to keep civilization in order is very strong rules and enforcing them. There’s no other way. It has to be very clear rules and very firm and swift punishment.”
Stressful situation: Illinois coach Tim Beckman has lost 22 pounds this season — and it’s not because he joined Weight Watchers.
The Illini have suffered five straight defeats, and the first-year coach admits the strain of the season is taking a toll.
“I did need to lose some weight, so that’s been a good thing — at least in my wife’s eyes,” he quipped.
But he added: “You want to win, and you’re in this profession to win. I’m proud of the way our players have handled this. But they want to win, too, and you’re in this game to be as successful as you can possibly be.”
Attendance has been dropping for Illini home games in 60,600-seat Memorial Stadium. The average crowd has been 46,013. It was 49,548 last year and 54,188 in 2010.
Beckman is coming off an impressive run at Toledo. He inherited a team that was 3-9 in 2008 and went 5-7, 8-5 and 8-4, finishing 7-1 in the MAC the last two seasons.
A former Urban Meyer assistant at Bowling Green, he was a defensive backs coach at OSU in 2005-06 and the Oklahoma State defensive coordinator in 2007-08.
“Not being involved that much in the losing aspect, I want to win—and that’s as easily as I can say it,” Beckman said.
Aztecs coming: The Buckeyes have completed their 2013 non-conference schedule with a visit from San Diego State on Sept. 7. Vanderbilt pulled out of a commitment to play at Ohio Stadium next year, creating a vacancy.
OSU also will play Buffalo on Aug. 31, visit California on Sept. 14 and host Florida A&M on Sept. 21.
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