We got fooled. You, me and possibly the inner sanctum of the Ohio State football team itself. Hoodwinked by two plays involving two players over two seasons.
The first fakeout was the 22-yard run by Dwayne Haskins Jr. against Michigan last November, which showed — oops, seemed to show — that Haskins was more than just a passer. The Buckeyes’ quarterback also could run when necessary, as proved by the huge play against the Wolverines that set up J.K. Dobbins’ go-ahead touchdown.
The second con job came in the third quarter against Texas Christian in September, when defensive end Nick Bosa stretched to tackle running back Darius Anderson. Bosa tore core muscles on the play, an injury that required surgery and ultimately led to the junior deciding to leave OSU rather than waiting for a potential return in a bowl game or the College Football Playoff.
Two plays. Two players. One conclusion, that Ohio State fans, media and probably even some members of the coaching staff set expectations for the 2018 season based on faulty premises: that Haskins could run for crucial yards when needed; and losing Bosa would not devastate the defense.
Wrong and wrong.
As the Buckeyes build toward a finish they hope results in something better than an Orlando or Tampa bowl game, the criticism comes in waves.
Not enough leadership. Poor coaching. Overrated talent. Soft players. I do not recall an Ohio State team over the past 10 seasons taking so much heat despite owning a record through nine games (8-1) that still holds playoff potential.
The criticisms mostly ring true, but Haskins being a below-average runner has hurt the offense in ways few saw coming. The offensive line and running backs became less aggressive as the passing game became not just a practical scheme but a necessity.
Losing Bosa, who ranked among the top defensive players in the nation, resulted in Ohio State not only needing to fill his position, but also in exposing the rest of the defense. Without Bosa, the linebackers and secondary have struggled.
Entering the season, the secondary was pegged as a weak spot. It turns out the troubles extend to the entire back seven. The linebackers also have under-performed, a wound Bosa would have Band-Aided.
“Whenever one of the top five players in America is not playing … obviously big,” Meyer said Monday.
But raise your hand if you initially thought it so big that the defense would cave in. I don’t see many hands in the air.
I’ve heard pushback that losing one player should not impact an entire defense. Bah. What would the New York Giants have been without Lawrence Taylor?
As for Haskins, many used a small sample size — the scamper to the Michigan 1-yard line — to assume the first-year starter could run just well enough to complement his core strengths: strong and accurate passer.
He can’t. Against Nebraska, Haskins collapsed like a newborn giraffe, with no tackler within five yards.
“It wasn’t the most graceful,” Meyer said. “(What we want) is get as much as you can and get down.”
To my eye, Haskins does not run even remotely well largely because he does not like to run. Ohio State’s QB shies from contact. The obvious question becomes, if coaches knew he was a subpar ball carrier, why wait until Nebraska to scrap the run-pass option offense?
“I knew he’s obviously not a J.T. (Barrett), but I’d have to go back (and look),” Meyer said, answering whether he thought Haskins would be more effective as a runner.
Make no mistake, most of the time Haskins’ arm negates the weakness of his legs. But Michigan is coming and the Wolverines won’t let Ohio State throttle them through the air. Haskins will need to run some. No foolin.’