Over the course of his 17-year head coaching career, Urban Meyer's most effective attacks featured dual-threat quarterbacks. On Saturday, when Ohio State hosts Oregon State to kick off the 2018 season, Dwayne Haskins will start his quest to break that mold.
The redshirt sophomore is set up with just about everything a quarterback could want in an offense. Ohio State returns its top six receivers from last season, a 4- and 5-star rotation at tight end, an enormous offensive line that averages 312 pounds and what could be college football's most dangerous one-two punch at running back.
Something Haskins lacks, however, is what made quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett so successful under Meyer — the speed and natural running ability to complement the offense as a legitimate and consistent threat on the ground. Haskins is more Cardale Jones than any of these three, and as the fifth-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class, Meyer and Co. knew they were hedging their future offense on a run-only-if-necessary quarterback.
That's not to say Haskins is completely incapable of hurting a defense with his legs. With Ohio State trailing 20-14 against Michigan last November, in the first this-means-something action of his collegiate career, he ripped off a 22-yard scramble that set the Buckeyes up at the Wolverines' goal line.
One play later, J.K. Dobbins punched in the go-ahead touchdown and the Buckeyes never looked back.
While Haskins has the ability to break a run or two, it's not something the staff can rely on as heavily as they have since Meyer took over in 2012.
Over the last six seasons, Ohio State's starting quarterbacks have averaged 14.6 carries per game. That number is inflated slightly by Miller's 2012 campaign, when he ran the ball 227 times in 12 games, and during Barrett's 2016 season, when he toted it 205 times in 13 games.
That workload was strategic, of course. The numbers advantage of adding a quarterback to the the ground attack is something Meyer has used in almost every year of his head coaching career. The notable exceptions were at Florida in 2010, when the immobile John Brantley orchestrated a nine-touchdown, 10-interception campaign that netted the Gators a forgettable 8-5 season. The other came when the keys were turned over to Jones in '15, a move that lasted precisely seven games before Ohio State turned things back over to Barrett.
So how can Haskins rewrite the narrative? Fortunately for him and the Buckeyes, he's set up better than any of his pass-first predecessors.
Along with the aforementioned options on offense, the coaching staff has undergone changes that benefit a gun-slinging quarterback with a loaded backfield.
Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson was at the head of Oklahoma's dynamic attacks from 2002-10, and his system peaked with pro-style Sam Bradford behind center. Wilson also masterminded Indiana's turnaround as the head coach before joining Ohio State's staff last year.
Combine Wilson's experience with the crossing-pattern principles that interim head coach Ryan Day favors, and Haskins has a playbook that any strong-armed quarterback would love.
And to Day's credit, he knows Haskins has to rely on his strengths to be successful.
"The thing we talk about with Dwayne is he doesn't have to be JT, he doesn't have to be Braxton (Miller), he doesn't have to be Cardale (Jones). All the quarterbacks, they have to be themselves," Day said at his press conference Monday. "But along the way you have to find your own way and that's been the message."
Haskins will have to find his way quickly with games against TCU (in Texas) and Penn State (at Happy Valley) in the month of September.
Day noted that backup Tate Martell will get snaps throughout the flow of the game this fall, and as the second-ranked dual-threat quarterback from the class of 2017, he's perfectly suited to mix things up on the ground.
But if the Buckeyes ascend to the heights they're reaching for this season, it'll be by the strength of Haskins arm, not his legs.