LOS ANGELES — Just for conversation’s sake, imagine Tuesday’s Rose Bowl against Washington being the last college game for Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. — though the third-year sophomore has not said it will be — then what better way to go out than firing passes at what is reputed to be the best secondary in the nation.
That’s the way the always-confident Haskins, the third-place finisher in Heisman Trophy voting, is approaching it. He has accepted the challenge, just like he did Nov. 24 when he and the Buckeyes carved up Michigan’s top-ranked defense in a 62-39 win.
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“A tremendous challenge,” Haskins said Saturday of the Huskies’ secondary. “I definitely see the All-Americans on the defense. (Safety Taylor) Rapp and (cornerback Byron) Murphy are really good players. But Michigan didn’t really scare us, and other teams didn’t really scare us.
“We’re not worried about what the verdict is as far as who people think is the best defense in the country because we feel like we’re the best offense in the country. Whoever we play, they are going to give their best shot, and we know that.”
As for whether he will declare for the NFL draft, he was coy. He said he hasn’t decided, even if analysts have jumped on his bandwagon since he set Big Ten season records for passing yards (4,580) and touchdown passes (47) while leading Ohio State’s most prolific offense (548.8 yards per game). Several analysts are saying he would be the No. 1 quarterback available in the draft.
Those are words he said he likes to hear. And he said news this week that Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert will return for another season will have no bearing on his plans. Herbert at one point was considered to be at the top of the analysts’ QB list.
“I felt like I was the best quarterback in the country, regardless of what Herbert did,” Haskins said. “I’m happy he made that decision for himself, but it has nothing to do with me. I’m just blessed to be a Buckeye, so whether that’s coming back or not, it’s going to be a great opportunity for me.”
His list of achievements, though, has gained several checkmarks this season, including the Ohio State and Big Ten records.
“To be a Heisman finalist and be considered as the top quarterback in the draft were all goals of mine, so I'm just working for it,” Haskins said. “To be able to have my work be noticed, it's just a good feeling for myself to know that I worked hard for the last several years, so it was all worth it.”
The Huskies noticed. Murphy said he and his fellow defensive backs have been looking forward to the challenge of facing Haskins and his deep group of receivers since the match was made.
“I was hyped because I know they like to throw the ball,” Murphy said. “So as a DB, my mindset is a team that throws the ball, I've got to play my best. They're going to play competitive, they're going to test me, so I got to make sure I'm ready to go.”
What sets Haskins apart from most quarterbacks is his ability to target any spot on the field, and his improving read of defenses. That’s why Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who also coaches the secondary, agrees with the draft analysts.
“Big-time quarterback. Top-10 pick,” Lake said. “An NFL team is going to want him starting for them on Sunday.”
But out of which year’s draft? That remains to be answered.