On a day when J.T. Barrett threw for five touchdowns in less than a half and moved into second place in career passing yardage at Ohio State, many Buckeye fans left Ohio Stadium more excited about the play of his backup.
Redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins got his first extended action, and flashed both the explosive passing arm that has inspired talk that he should take over as the Buckeyes’ starter, and the inconsistent decision making that has kept him on the bench.
Haskins finished the day 15-for-23 passing for 228 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He started with an exclamation point, leading the Buckeyes right down the field, covering 75 yards in just seven plays.
The drive ended with Haskins zipping a 28-yard touchdown pass to sophomore WR C.J. Saunders. Haskins said he was so wrapped up in making sure he made the right throw that the achievement didn’t hit him right away.
“That was pretty special. I didn’t even know that I threw the touchdown until after it happened,” Haskins said. “I understood because it was a read, but once we scored it was like ‘I just threw my first touchdown pass!’ It was a pretty special moment.”
Saunders was impressed with the play Haskins made.
“It was a concept where the outside has the ability to go deep or hook it up and I have a work route so I can kind of do whatever I want in there,” said Saunders. “I saw the safeties go too high, so the middle was open. I just kind of kept it skinny and Dwayne threw an amazing ball.”
Haskins played sparingly in mopup duty against Army a week ago, completing all four of his pass attempts, and he said it wasn’t until that first drive against UNLV that he felt a lot more comfortable.
“I definitely feel I’ve got a few good snaps now under my belt,” Haskins said. “Last week was a little weird getting in for the first time. After I got my first series this game, it was like ‘okay, I’m in the flow of the game now.'”
Haskins led two more scoring drives in the third quarter, the first capped off with a field goal and the second ending with a touchdown pass to tight end Rashod Berry.
However, he made a crucial error later in the game, throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Haskins said the mistake was entirely his fault.
“We throw passes to field coverage sometimes, but usually the ball is outside. I threw a little inside so it got intercepted. But it won’t happen again,” he said.
Head coach Urban Meyer gave Haskins’ performance a mixed review.
“Dwayne played pretty good,” said Meyer, before turning his attention to the interception.
“That’s inexcusable (to) throw it right to the guy. Obviously it’s a young player, a freshman. And they’ve gotta go through that.”
Barrett spent the second half working with Haskins and fellow backup Joe Burrow to help them get prepared, both on the field and on the sidelines.
“As a quarterback, you’re trying to get on the same page as your receivers and offensive line protection, run game, all of those things happen on the sideline between series. So with that, trying to get those guys to feel comfortable to go ask the receiver ‘hey, on this look, what did you see? What was the coverage out there?'” said Barrett.
“That’s a lot of the in-game adjustments that are going to be needed. I think it was good for them to have those conversations so that when it’s their time to go out and play, they’re comfortable.”
Haskins’ performance is sure to encourage more Buckeye fans to call for him to take Barrett’s job, but the freshman says there’s no doubt in his mind who the starter should be.
“No, not at all. J.T. is the guy,” Haskins said.
“I just want to go out there and play so that (Meyer) knows that if he has to put me in the game he’ll be confident, whether that’s me running the ball or doing RPOs or whatever it is that he wants me to do, that he’ll have full confidence in me to go do it.”