ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The first meaningful playing time of Dwayne Haskins’ Ohio State career came with the Buckeyes needing to score against their biggest rivals.
Down 20-14 with less than seven minutes to play in the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Michigan, Ohio State’s hopes of winning appeared to be in serious jeopardy when starting quarterback J.T. Barrett left the game and went back to the locker room, after aggravating a knee injury that he suffered before the game when a cameraman ran into him.
Backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins, however, came in to save the day.
With the Buckeyes facing 3rd-and-1 at their own 31-yard line when the quarterback change occurred, Haskins led the Buckeyes the ensuing 69 yards down the field for a touchdown on his very first drive in the game.
That drive not only gave the Buckeyes a 21-20 lead, but ultimately made the difference in Saturday’s game, as Michigan never scored again and the Buckeyes earned a 31-20 win.
Haskins, a redshirt freshman whose first seven game appearances of his career all came in blowout situations, said after Saturday’s game that the reality – that he had just led Ohio State to a win in its most important game of the regular season – hadn’t quite sunk in yet.
"It’s crazy to go win the biggest rivalry in sports," Haskins said. "I never thought it would actually be a reality. I was always just preparing in meetings, learning, asking questions and got my number called, and it worked out for me thankfully."
While the situation couldn’t have been much more high-pressure for the first time Ohio State actually needed Haskins to play with the game on the line and produce points, Haskins felt like he settled in quickly after fellow freshman J.K. Dobbins ran for four yards on his first play in the game, giving Haskins a first down and the opportunity to put together a drive.
Haskins said he wasn’t even thinking about the fact that Ohio State was trailing once he got in the game.
"First thing I get told by (Ohio State center Billy Price) was 'Clap loud,' so I just forgot we were down by anything," Haskins said.
“It’s crazy to go win the biggest rivalry in sports.” – Dwayne Haskins
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said the Buckeyes kept their play calling conservative when Haskins first entered the game, running the ball on four of Haskins’ first five plays in the game. But when the Buckeyes needed Haskins to make a throw downfield on 3rd-and-13, the redshirt freshman quarterback came through – showing off the arm strength that had some Ohio State fans believing he should replace Barrett as Ohio State’s starting quarterback earlier this season – when he connected with his roommate, Austin Mack, on a 27-yard throw between double coverage.
Haskins said his close friendship with Mack gave him extra confidence to make that play, which Meyer described as "phenomenal."
"I love all my receivers, but I definitely have a special connection with Austin, so I mean, we had to make a play and it was one-on-one, and I’ll take my boy any time," Haskins said.
Two plays later, Haskins showed off his ability to run the ball when he took off for a 22-yard scamper to the 1-yard line, which set up a Dobbins touchdown run one play later.
While Haskins has been known more for his big arm than his ability to run the ball, Price wasn’t surprised, telling the media after the game that he has told Haskins – who wears No. 7 – that he resembles Michael Vick.
"The kid’s a gifted, freak athlete," Price said.
On each of Ohio State’s subsequent two possessions, Haskins completed third-down passes on crossing routes to K.J. Hill that went for 29 yards and 24 yards, respectively, setting up field-goal attempts – one of which Sean Nuernberger made from 44 yards out, one of which he missed from 43 yards.
For the game as a whole, Haskins completed six of seven passing attempts for 94 yards and ran three times for 24 yards.
Haskins had plenty of help from the rest of his team in closing out Saturday’s game. He didn’t attempt a single pass on the Buckeyes’ final touchdown drive, on which Dobbins had a 35-yard run before Weber ran 25 yards for the score. Ohio State’s defense played a huge role in closing out the game by holding Michigan scoreless on its final four possessions, though the Buckeyes got some major help on that side of the ball from Michigan quarterback John O’Korn, who threw erratic passes that missed open receivers throughout the game.
Perhaps most importantly for Haskins, though, he didn’t make any significant mistakes – one week after he was pulled from the game against Illinois for a fumble that was returned for a touchdown – that could have caused the Buckeyes to lose their lead.
Meyer was among those who was impressed by how Haskins answered the bell.
"Dwayne came in and hit that 3rd-and-long pass to Austin Mack, and then had a great couple crossing routes, handed the ball very well," Meyer said. "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."
Price said Haskins deserved "a lot of credit" for his "preparation throughout the week."
"He’s very calm and cool when he’s back there," Price said. "When you see what he did (on the 3rd-and-13 throw to Mack), whatever the case was and he’s able to convert on that; as a 19-, 20-year-old young man, that’s incredible. So I told him, just 'Hey, trust the offensive line, trust us for getting our jobs done up front.' You just make good decisions and don’t turn the ball over and we’ll be in good shape."
Although Barrett was injured before the game, Haskins said he didn’t know that Barrett might be unable to finish the game and that he would have to play. But he said he has tried to prepare himself for every game to be ready in case his number is called, which enabled him to be ready when his moment came on Saturday.
"All credit to my coaches and my older guys and the players," Haskins said. "Just always been preparing, and no matter what happens, if J.T. goes down, you got to be ready to get in the game."
While Barrett said after Saturday’s game that he expects to be able to play in next Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin, Haskins said he will prepare the same way he always has this upcoming week to be ready in case he does need to play again.
"Wisconsin’s a tough team, and I’ll be preparing tomorrow and the day after that and the following days," Haskins said.
Mack said he will be just as confident as he would be with Barrett if the Buckeyes need Haskins to play against the Badgers.
"All the way, I believe he can do it," Mack said. "He’s being a pro. Dwayne takes that edge, that seriousness to the game, so that when that time comes and his number’s called, he can be able to produce."