ANN ARBOR, Mich. — We all felt it Saturday. Everyone who remembers the incredible last few chapters of the Ohio State 2014 season. This was one of those times you look at the person next to you and go “Whoa,” such was the inescapable sense of déjà vu involving the Maize and Blue.
Here was J.T. Barrett, going down with an injury during the second half against Michigan. Just like in 2014. Here was the little-used backup quarterback — the one with the catapult arm — being called on to save the day. Just like in 2014. Here was Wisconsin waiting in the wings and the Buckeyes trying to buck the odds by making the College Football Playoff. Just like in 2014. And here was Cardale Jones on the sideline. Just like in 2014.
Wait. What? Why was Jones on the sideline? Well, if you are Buckeyes backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., how are you supposed to channel the supernatural power of 12-gauge if the former Ohio State quarterback is not standing within a few feet?
So there stood Jones, who was only able to attend The Game because his NFL team, the Los Angeles Chargers, played on Thanksgiving. And there stood Haskins, a redshirt freshman who had attempted just 50 passes this season, being called upon to replace the injured Barrett (knee) with the Buckeyes trailing 20-14 with 6:07 left in the third quarter.
Not even Jones faced that kind of pressure three seasons ago when he replaced Barrett (broken ankle) early in the fourth quarter with Ohio State leading Michigan 28-21. Jones, who had only attempted 19 passes to that point, only needed to hold the lead. Haskins needed to go get it.
Video: Former quarterback Cardale Jones
And he did. No matter what happens, whether the Buckeyes make the playoff — a possibility that became more remote after Auburn defeated Alabama later Saturday — or lose to Wisconsin next Saturday in the Big Ten championship game, Haskins will go down as the QB who bailed out the Buckeyes by leading them to three second-half scoring drives in a 31-20 win against Michigan.
And he never saw it coming. Haskins showed up at the Big House expecting Barrett to go the distance, but a bizarre injury to the starting quarterback — someone, possibly a cameraman, bumped into Barrett’s knee as he was warming up behind the bench before the Buckeyes’ first offensive series — opened the door. Barrett managed to play the first 2½ quarters before aggravating the injury and coming out for good.
At that moment, Buckeye Nation split into two camps. One had been pushing for Haskins to get more snaps, even to the point of playing ahead of Barrett. And they got their wish, although under unfortunate circumstances. The second camp was horrified that the Buckeyes would wilt without their four-year starter.
And then there was Haskins, who described the whole 2014 retro scene as “surreal.”
“I was a junior in high school in 2014 and remember the Virginia Tech loss, but didn’t watch the Team Up North game that year,” said Haskins, who started OSU’s rally with a perfectly thrown, 27-yard pass to Austin Mack on third-and-13. He followed that strike two plays later with a 22-yard run to the Michigan 1-yard line that set up J.K. Dobbins’ go-ahead touchdown. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 94 yards.
“I heard J.T. got hurt and Cardale went in and then beat Wisconsin by a lot of points,” he continued. “That’s when his legend was born. Did I ever think that would happen to me? No. But it’s crazy.”
Haskins and Jones already share a friendship. Now they share some history.
“He was pretty hyped up after the game,” said Haskins, describing Jones’ reaction to the win. “He’s riding the bus with us back to Columbus, and I definitely will pick his brain.”
Good idea. Barrett said he plans to start against Wisconsin, but who knows? Either way, Haskins is cool with it. After all, he just beat Michigan.