Two weeks ago, the question was how Dwayne Haskins Jr. would handle his business as Ohio State’s starting quarterback for the first time on the road against TCU.
Which was sort of funny, considering the first time anyone paid serious attention to Haskins, it was last year when he entered a game late in the third quarter at Michigan for an injured J.T. Barrett. The Buckeyes trailed, and Haskins promptly — and coolly — rallied them to victory.
Nevertheless, against TCU in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, he was a major part of another answer as Ohio State overcame an eighth-point deficit in the second half.
Now the question is, what has changed most about the talented third-year sophomore that tells many of his older teammates he can handle what’s coming on Saturday night? After all, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes will play No. 9 Penn State in one of the more raucous settings in college football — a Nittany Lions “White Out” night — with supremacy in the Big Ten East on the line.
“The No. 1 thing that stands out is his leadership,” senior receiver Parris Campbell said. “Obviously he could always throw the ball; that wasn’t a surprise to anyone. But I think the biggest step he made was in his leadership.”
Haskins has said he defers to his elders on the team when it comes to speeches, but he isn’t just another passenger on the boat.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve been a good leader,” he said.
Campbell wasn’t referring to the verbal kind of command, anyway. He said a major sign of his Haskins’ leadership upgrade came when it was needed most two weeks ago.
“I just keep going back to TCU. When the offense was kind of slow at first, he was very poised (and) confident in that moment,” Campbell said. “Seeing how he carried himself on the sideline, how he was still positive, I think that gave the offense a lot of confidence. And I think just in that moment I could see his leadership just switch (on), and that was obviously to our advantage.”
Ohio State’s offensive coaches are following Haskins’ lead for sure. They have seen that he is a cut above in the passing game — and not just the throwing, but the knowing.
Coach Urban Meyer said that while the Ohio State staff “all knew he was very talented,” what has stood out is “his management of the offense. He has done a great job.”
As he works with a veteran receiving corps and behind an improving line, through four games Haskins leads the Big Ten in passing yards (298.5 average), touchdown passes (16) and passing efficiency (207.0), buoyed by his lead in completion percentage (75.7) with just one interception.
Outsiders have seen the major change in the attack compared to the past four years under Barrett, a dual-threat QB who was more apt to make a living in the running game.
“They are obviously different when it comes to the passing game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said of the Buckeyes. “Before, they were a quarterback run-oriented offense. Now he is able to distribute the ball and get the ball to all the playmakers they’ve been able to recruit and develop all over the field.
“It makes it difficult and challenging to stop them because they’ve got some really talented receivers and running backs and offensive line. They have a lot of different weapons, and he is doing a really, really good job of distributing the ball and getting the ball into those playmakers’ hands.”
That’s always the ultimate sign of a leader at quarterback.