Haskins' stellar show may be limited to one act

Ray Stein The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins Jr. carved up Northwestern's pass defense with 499 passing yards and five touchdowns in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday night. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

Many of us who have followed Ohio State football for 50 years or more have started to think of the Buckeyes’ 2018 season, and particularly quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., in astronomical terms.

Longtime OSU observers have seen all manner of quarterback star power on fall Saturdays, of course, but usually from Buckeyes opponents — Big Ten bombers including Drew Brees, Chuck Long and Jim Everett, nonconference slingers such as John Elway, Peyton Manning and Vince Young.

Never, however, has an Ohio State fan encountered a celestial body cloaked in scarlet and gray quite like Haskins, the third-year sophomore who added to his brief but jaw-dropping legend by leading the Buckeyes to their second consecutive Big Ten championship with a 45-24 win over Northwestern on Saturday in Indianapolis.

Throughout this season, Haskins has been a spectacular comet moving across our collective sky, somehow shining ever brighter as he matures as a leader and as he learns to harness and unleash his immense talent.

The past two weeks, against Michigan and then Northwestern with a league title and a possible College Football Playoff spot on the line, Haskins’ brilliance ticked upward yet again.

He dissected the Wolverines and the nation’s top-ranked defense with his typical pinpoint passing, then added another layer with some hard-nosed running. Against Northwestern he showed prowess when met with defensive pressure, throwing three touchdown passes while moving out of the pocket.

Haskins finished the Big Ten championship game with a school-record 499 yards passing — his fifth 400-yard game of the season — with five touchdowns and one interception. For the season, he has national bests with 4,580 yards through the air and 47 TDs (both also are Big Ten records) while completing 70.2 percent of his throws.

For perspective’s sake, consider Troy Smith’s passing numbers for Ohio State in his Heisman Trophy-winning season of 2006: a 65.3 completion percentage, 2,542 yards, 30 touchdowns. Football has become even more wide-open in the past 12 years, sure, but those discrepancies are still notable.

For Ohio State followers, witnessing such greatness from Haskins is almost too much to absorb — and like a comet it won’t be visible for long. He has put himself in position to become the first quarterback taken in a QB-light NFL draft, and it’s implausible to think staying another season could do anything to raise his stock.

But man, what an entertaining show this has been.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Ohio State showed again on Saturday why it has been an often-frustrating season despite the Buckeyes reaching 12 wins for the sixth time in Urban Meyer’s seven seasons as coach.

The passing game’s expertise notwithstanding, OSU’s erratic performances on defense stand as the main culprit for the Buckeyes’ failure to reach the playoff for the second year in a row despite now being a two-time conference champion.

The biggest shiner remains a 29-point loss to Purdue in October, but inconsistency reared its head again on Saturday.

Ohio State gave up another long gash run for a touchdown on a simple off-tackle play, then allowed Northwestern to get back in the game with two decisive drives early in the second half. The two scores turned a 24-7 OSU halftime lead to 24-21, and things got tense for a while.

Haskins and the offense pulled it out, as they have managed in all games but one this season. One too many, as it turned out.

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