Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been credited with seven rushing attempts this season through three games, but really only one of them has been planned so far.
In the season opener against Oregon State, Haskins scrambled twice for a total of 24 yards. Against Rutgers, he was sacked once and then tackled behind the line of scrimmage on a broken hand-off attempt. Last week against TCU, he was sacked for the second time this season. He also had a 4-yard scramble on third-and-5.
His first true planned run, however, came early in the fourth quarter at the TCU 5-yard line. Haskins had been handing the ball to his running backs all game long, and the Horned Frogs defensive ends had been crashing down on the ball carriers in response. Seeing this earlier in the game, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson told acting head coach Ryan Day that the keeper would be there when they needed it.
Leading 33-28 in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes needed it.
So Haskins read the defensive end, saw him crashing down once again, and pulled the ball back and ran into the end zone nearly untouched to make it 40-28.
The quarterback run may not have played a part in the first three quarters, but Wilson and Day saved it for the exact right moment. Dwayne Haskins’ ability to throw the ball allows them to rely on his arm, but he is good enough as a runner that they can incorporate that into the game plan as well.
“I definitely feel like my legs are a part of my game,” Haskins said on Wednesday. “It might not be the biggest part, but it definitely is there. Plays where I have to read a defensive lineman or a linebacker and I have to pull it, if it’s called I’m gonna read it. That’s part of the game plan.”
In Urban Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State, he has generally relied on quarterbacks whose legs are the biggest parts of their respective games, which is why moving away from it right now has Meyer at least a bit concerned.
“Well, that is lost yardage,” Meyer said of the diminished quarterback run plans for Haskins. “Obviously statistically and production-wise he’s been great, but the lost yardage is the Q run, Q draw, and Q read plays. So you have to pick up that yardage somewhere else.
“And I think he’s at 340 some a game and throwing very accurately. The receivers are playing fairly well and he’s got two good backs behind him. It’s a little different style of offense. A lot of the same concepts, but I always call that the lost yardage that you have to pick up elsewhere, and he has up to this point.”
Through three games this season, Haskins is averaging 304.3 yards of total offense per game. That is one yard less than J.T. Barrett averaged last season while rushing for 53 yards per game over the Buckeyes’ first three games.
Not only has Ohio State more than picked up the lost yardage that Meyer is concerned about, Haskins has essentially done it all by himself.
While Haskins is likely never to carry it 15-20 times in a game like Barrett did 22 times in his career, he is still clearly ready and willing.
In order to keep defenses from continuing to crash down full speed on the running backs, Haskins will need to keep it at times. He won’t need to do it a lot because simply the threat of it happening can accomplish what the Buckeyes need.
“I think when a defense sees him keep the ball, they have to account for him,” Ryan Day said. “And if they don’t account for him, then we pull it. And that’s kind of what happened in that game. The end was crashing down hard, Kevin Wilson saw it on film and said, ‘Now it’s time to pull the ball.’ We got down there a little later on and that end did crash, he pulled the ball and he scored.
“Any time that happens and a defensive coordinator sees that, they have to account for that. Once they account for that, job done. We’re trying to be creative in how we do that, but as long as you’re a threat then I think a defense has to account for him.”
As for the number of carries per game that “feels good” to Haskins, he doesn’t seem to care.
“Winning the game feels good,” he said. “If I have to run the ball a lot in one game, that’s what it has to be. The main goal is to have that ‘W’ in the box score at the end.”