In 2012, Michael Bennett missed the better part of his sophomore season thanks to a nagging groin injury. So it’s not hard to understand why the Ohio State defensive lineman is confused by the growing problem of players faking injuries in college football.
“I’ve never tried to fake an injury. I try to fake not being injured,” Bennett said. “I don’t really know how that works.”
The trend towards faux injuries isn’t one without purpose. With more teams -- Ohio State included -- gravitating toward no-huddle approaches to compliment their spread attacks on offense, opposing defenses are left with very few options when it comes to finding ways to catch their breaths and make substitutions.As a result, teams at both the professional and college ranks have been accused of faking injuries to draw mandatory timeouts from the official.
The issue arose as recently as a week ago, when Northwestern players suffered an unusual amount of alleged injuries during their season-opening win against California. Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes bit his tongue when it came to accusing the Wildcats of feigning injuries, but it’s not difficult to read between the lines of what he did say.
“It was just unusual,” Dykes said. “It seemed like every time we got a first down they had an injury. I hadn't seen that, wasn't expecting to see that, was disappointed that I saw that. But that's the way it goes sometimes.”
While Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald denied that his player’s injuries weren’t legitimate, California is no longer his problem. Now, it’s the Buckeyes who are preparing for the Golden Bears’ high-paced offense, which they’ll get a first-hand look at during this Saturday’s battle in Berkeley.
In its first two games under Dykes, California has run more plays than any other team in the nation, taking an average of 103 offensive snaps per contest. That’s three-and-a-half plays more than the country’s second highest paced offense, which belongs to BYU and its 99.5 plays per game.
In an effort to simulate Cal’s high-powered approach, the Buckeyes’ defense will spend the days leading up to the game constantly on the go. Whether it’s a run, pass, or incompletion that the OSU starters see in practice, they know that whatever’s next is not far behind.
“When we do scout work and we go against the twos, they’re just going to be jet-jet,” Bennett said. “They’re just going to be going play after play. Whether they complete passes or not, the coaches are going to put the ball on the ground and we have to run back and get set.”
One measure that the Buckeyes won’t take when it comes to slowing down the Bears is that of faking injuries. Echoing the sentiments of Bennett, OSU linebacker Joshua Perry was firm in stating: “There’ll be none of that faking stuff. (We’re) just going to go out there and play the game how we play.”
It’s not just dishonesty that has brought controversy to the no-huddle approach.
Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema are just two coaches who have criticized the hurry-up method over the past year, with each citing player safety as their main concern. While it may not be a coincidence that each coach has a defensive background, both have insisted that issues could persist with players being unable to adequately sub out for extended periods of time.
At 6-3 and 285 pounds, Bennett is the kind of player who is at the heart of their concern. But even while Cal’s no-huddle offense might leave him gasping for air, the junior refuses to look for ways out of facing his team’s upcoming challenge.
“People don’t like it because it’s hard,” Bennett said. “You just don’t get to ignore something because it’s hard.”
Bennett’s won’t be alone on the OSU sideline when it comes to embracing the Bears’ uptempo attack. In fact, sophomore cornerback Armani Reeves said that he prefers facing a no-huddle offense, as he feels that it better suits his style of play.
“I like having everything just going fast because I’m a fast person. I’m always moving on the field. I’m like Sonic, because I can’t stop moving,” Reeves said. “Anything can happen when you run that many plays. I like it. It’s fun -- even if I’m on defense.”
On Saturday, we'll find out if Reeves’ enthusiasm about uptempo offenses is authentic, or as fake as the injuries so often used to slow them.