STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Hours before Dwayne Haskins Jr.’s first collegiate start in front of a hostile crowd, Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller announced the Nittany Lions’ strategy against the Ohio State quarterback.
According to Miller, two of Haskins’ high school teammates — Penn State linebacker Cam Brown and tight end Jonathan Holland — said that Haskins could be slowed by a consistent pass rush.
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“They told me if you hit him a lot of times, he’s gonna fold,” Miller said in a TV interview posted on Twitter.
Haskins, whose Twitter handle is @dh_simba7, replied, “You poking the wrong lion buddy.”
But for most of Ohio State’s dramatic 27-26 victory Saturday night, Penn State did poke Haskins effectively. The Nittany Lions only sacked the redshirt sophomore once, but they kept him and the Ohio State offense off-balance with blitzes. Haskins’ throws were uncharacteristically inaccurate, his footwork off.
“They weren’t going to let us throw the ball downfield,” Haskins said. “That was pretty evident the whole game. They sent a lot of pressure, and I missed a couple throws and didn’t have great protection on some plays.”
His receivers didn’t help him early, either. His one interception was on a deflection off tight end Rashod Berry’s hands. Haskins completed only six of his first 15 passes for 36 yards until his 26-yard screen pass to J.K. Dobbins gave Ohio State its first points with just under 2 minutes left in the first half.
“It’s his first time going through it,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day said. “I talked to him and said, ‘Hey, you’re playing good.’ I thought the ball to Rashod was a good throw. He had to throw some away because maybe the looks weren’t good, but I thought he was managing the game well.”
The fourth quarter required more than that, and Haskins and his teammates, particularly his receivers, delivered. Through 3 1/2 quarters, Haskins was 16 for 30 for 137 yards.
But with Ohio State trailing 26-14, the passing game finally clicked. Haskins completed six of nine passes for 133 yards in directing the Buckeyes to the two touchdowns that won the game.
He certainly got a lot of help from his teammates. Binjimen Victor made a leaping grab and then weaved his way for a 46-yard touchdown to pull Ohio State to within 26-21.
Dobbins started the game-winning drive with a 35-yard gain on a screen pass from the Ohio State 4-yard line.
“That was definitely big,” Ohio State right tackle Isaiah Prince said. “Being back by the student section, it was loud. You can’t hear. Playing in an environment like that is tough, so that play was a big play for us to get the drive started.”
The drive was capped by a 24-yard touchdown to K.J. Hill in which the receiver made a beautiful move on a wide bubble screen, benefiting from a block by Terry McLaurin.
“We had adversity and we had to keep fighting and keep swinging,” Haskins said. “It wasn’t pretty for pretty much the whole game. But we had faith in each other and came out on top.”