Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s showdown between #9 Ohio State and archrival Michigan, the Buckeyes looked like they might be in serious trouble.
Already trailing the Wolverines 20-14, starting quarterback J.T. Barrett went down with a knee injury, and it was quickly apparent that he would not return to the game.
That put not only the outcome of the season’s biggest game, but also Ohio State’s playoff hopes, squarely in the hands of redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins.
He entered the game with the Bucks facing a 3rd-and-1 at their own 31 yard line and immediately helped engineer a drive that turned the game around.
“It was really unreal, honestly,” said Haskins. “You would think that I would be nervous, but honestly I wasn’t.”
Part of not feeling the pressure was all the other things he had to worry about when he stepped into the huddle.
“The first thing I got told by Billy (Price) was ‘clap loud’ (to signal the snap). So I just forgot we were down by anything,” Haskins said.
His first play was a handoff to J.K. Dobbins, who converted the 3rd-and-1 to give the Buckeyes and their new quarterback a fresh set of downs.
“After that first handoff, I think it was J.K. that got the first down. It was like alright, we’ve got the ball rolling now. It’s first down, I can actually start the drive. After that play it was like let’s keep moving this, let’s go score,” Haskins said.
The crucial play of both that drive and also the game, came on 3rd-and-13 from the OSU 47. The Buckeyes had just suffered back-to-back false start penalties, turning a very manageable 3rd-and-3 into a much uglier situation.
Haskins found his roommate, Austin Mack, down the right sideline for a 27-yard gain. Mack absorbed a vicious shot and held onto the ball to pick up a huge first down.
“It’s 3rd-and-long and we needed a big play. Somebody had to make a play,” said Mack. “They called an isolation pass to me, a fade route, and I went up and made a play.”
Haskins said it wasn’t a coincidence that he turned to Mack in a crucial spot.
“I love all my receivers, but I definitely have a special connection with Austin,” Haskins said. “We had to make a play and it was one-on-one and I’ll take my boy any time.”
After a short gain by J.K. Dobbins, Haskins scrambled 22 yards down to the Michigan 1. The Buckeyes scored on the next snap to take the lead for good. The young quarterback’s play left his veteran center very impressed.
“He’s very calm and cool when he’s back there,” Price said. “The kid’s a gifted freak athlete. You see what he did (on 3rd-and-13) and he’s able to convert on that as a 19, 20 year old young man, that’s incredible. I just told him, trust the offensive line, trust us, we’re getting the job done up front. You just make good decisions and don’t turn the ball over and we’ll be in good shape.”
Urban Meyer said the key was to keep things simple to let Haskins get into the rhythm of the game.
“We didn’t want to put him in harm’s way. You saw, we were somewhat conservative at the beginning to let him settle in,” said Meyer.
“We had two or three first downs and then he hit that one play which was phenomenal to Austin Mack and did a heck of a job. And then he scrambled for a big hit. And he took care of the ball, that was the number one thing. He took care of the ball.”
Haskins finished 6-for-7 passing for 93 yards, and added three rushes for 24 yards, and after the 31-20 win was complete, the magnitude of that performance was still sinking in.
“It’s crazy to go win the biggest rivalry in sports,” Haskins said. “I never thought it would be a reality.”