Ohio State and its football coaches — recent past and present — have been issuing plenty of statements over the past few weeks. And Saturday in the Shoe was no different.
To wit: Dwayne Haskins Jr. is the real deal. And acting coach Ryan Day correctly decided that a quarterback should throw more than run.
Let’s dissect the first one. So this is what the Buckeyes’ passing game looks like with a throw-first quarterback running the offense. Nothing against J.T. Barrett, who was highly effective as a tough runner who made enough throws to win most games.
But Haskins? This cat slings it so smoothly that at this very moment, a sticky note is being affixed to Nick Saban’s desk with the warning: “Another Cardale Jones. Gulp.”
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Except that Haskins is more accurate than Jones. He sliced up Oregon State for 313 yards on 22-of-30 passing in a 77-31 win and became the first Ohio State quarterback to throw for 300 yards and five touchdowns in his first start.
Granted, it was Oregon State, whose halftime strategy reportedly involved flying a kite with a key attached — the old Ben Franklin play — to extend the 30-minute lightning delay as long as possible; desperate times — the Beavers trailed 42-14 at the time — call for desperate measures.
Still, Haskins has the “look.” The arm was never going to be an issue; God-given genetics on display. But how would the redshirt sophomore hold up in his first start? What of his touch on shorter throws? His decision-making? His poise in the pocket? Those are necessities in games against teams not named Oregon State (and Rutgers, which is next on the menu).
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The touch issue is touchy. Should a receiver be expected to catch a missile from 8 yards away? No doubt Haskins at times could stand to take a few miles per hour off his fastball — a softer touch on underneath throws was the one throwing element in which Haskins took a back seat to former teammate Joe Burrow, who is starting for LSU after transferring in May — but Ohio State's receivers also need to anticipate the heater coming. For the most part, they did.
As for decision-making and poise in the pocket, not much to see here, which is to say that Haskins hangs in well under pressure — OK, so the Beavers didn’t exactly put many paws on him — and goes through his progressions in a way reminiscent of Barrett in 2014, when Ohio State won the national championship.
The lone noticeable hiccups were a poorly thrown ball off his back foot in the red zone, caused by a bad decision, that led to an interception. And a deep throw to Parris Campbell that sailed over the wrong shoulder.
“We laughed about (the interception) afterwards,” said Day, who is filling in while Urban Meyer serves his three-game suspension. “He knows I’m going to be all over him for that third-down throw down in the red zone. But I thought it was a good start.”
As for the second statement: Day called a great game, largely because he — with input from offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson — kept Haskins throwing and not running. The quarterback’s two runs totaled 24 yards. Otherwise, the Buckeyes faced third-and-short (three yards or fewer) six times with Haskins in the game, and they either threw the ball or ran the tailback each time.
“I don’t feel like I need to run the ball,” Haskins said. “I’ve got running backs like Mike (Weber) and J.K. (Dobbins) who can handle it.”
Maybe it would have been the same if Meyer had been on the sideline instead of watching from his home, as ESPN reported. But that is speculation, and Ohio State has heard enough conjecture for one season. The fact is, Haskins ran twice. And it was more than enough.