It’s 13 days before Ohio State opens the season, and considering what could be coming with the offense under first-year starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., it’s an ideal time to look back to 2015, when coach Urban Meyer had similar plans for the offense.
The Buckeyes were coming off a national-championship run in which quarterback Cardale Jones, a tall, strong-armed passer and capable runner, had led them to wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon after replacing the injured J.T. Barrett. Augmenting a stout running game featuring Ezekiel Elliott, Jones had stretched defenses with a deep passing ability that Barrett just didn’t possess.
Meyer long has desired to get back to those days.
He tried to do it in 2015 after talking Jones into not leaving for the NFL. Jones kept the starting job in preseason camp while Barrett was still working his way back into form, but the passing game fizzled more than sizzled.
Jones, for all his strength, had accuracy problems and a seeming disconnect at times between what he was seeing and what the receivers were reading.
Barrett rolled back in midway through the season and, other than in an upset loss to Michigan State, the Buckeyes got back to an offense that emphasized controlling the run and an intermediate passing game. It made Barrett the most prolific offensive player in Big Ten history by the end of his career last season.
Now the Buckeyes are poised to take another stab at stretching the field on offense. Even with Meyer on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into his knowledge of domestic-abuse allegations against fired receivers coach Zach Smith, the work toward turning up the passing game has continued under acting head coach Ryan Day.
Haskins is not the runner Barrett was, but he is a stand-tall-in-the-pocket passer who has the ability to attack every area of the field.
“Dwayne is an elite passer, period,” senior receiver Parris Campbell said. “He’s blessed with some talents that a lot of quarterbacks don’t possess. You have great quarterbacks, then you have that handful of quarterbacks that are just different, have that elite skill. … It’s just something they’re blessed with. Dwayne definitely has that gift.”
With an overhand delivery finding the optimum launch point for his 6-foot-3 frame, Haskins throws crisp, spiral passes that sail out of the backfield. It’s the accuracy and the velocity, Campbell indicated, that sets those flings apart.
“You guys have seen it firsthand in the Team Up North game,” said Campbell, referring to Haskins’ only major appearance, when he entered for an injured Barrett at Michigan last season and rallied Ohio State to victory.
The highlight was a pass to Austin Mack on third-and-13 from the Ohio State 47-yard line. Haskins threw between two defenders and put the ball up where Mack was the only one who really had a shot at it.
“A lot of quarterbacks aren’t making that throw to Austin Mack,” Campbell said. “It’s basically a hole shot right in the middle of the coverage. … That was a ball that by an inch, if it came a second early or a second late, it could have been an (interception).
“He’s a crafty dude, and he’s just different. So we’re extremely grateful to have him, for sure.”
Plug that into an offense that has two proven 1,000-yard running backs in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, a slew of veteran receivers that includes what appears to be a maturing Binjimen Victor, and a line that, under the direction of Greg Studrawa, has some of its best depth under Meyer.
“Like Coach Meyer was saying, we’re going to add to our (passing) game vertically,” Campbell said. “We already have an established run game with J.K. and Mike. I think it’s going to be hard for defenses to contain us once we get clicking.”