“The quarterback is a product of those around him.”
That is the phrase that Urban Meyer has used throughout his tenure at Ohio State when discussing the quarterback position for the Buckeyes.
It was his go-to phrase in 2014 when J.T. Barrett exploded onto the scene and finished fifth in the Heisman voting, and for good reason. Then a redshirt-freshman, Barrett threw for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. Then, he went down with an injury in the season finale. Yet, Ohio State's quarterback production didn't drop, as Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to a national title.
It should be noted that the two Ohio State signal callers had a pair of second round wide receivers (OK, Michael Thomas should be considered a first rounder, but he somehow wasn't drafted there in 2016) to throw to in that title season, and an all-time talent at running back in Ezekiel Elliott. Add in a future first-round left tackle and the Buckeyes had one of the more talented offenses in school history.
Fast-forward to present day, where Ohio State is breaking in a new quarterback for the first time since that 2014 season and has plenty of questions at wide receiver...or does it?
Yes it is true Ohio State's wide receivers have underwhelmed since the likes of Thomas and Devin Smith moved on to the NFL, but could a change at quarterback improve their production? I believe the answer is an overwhelming yes.
When you look at Ohio State's receivers in person, they have all the makings of an elite unit. For whatever reason, none of them have stepped up to become the kind of player that you simply can't take off the field. The six man rotation, which I believe should be whittled down to four or five, limits the player's chances of making plays. It does however, give Dwayne Haskins a number of experienced and reliable options.
After watching Haskins on film, it is evident that his favorite throws to attempt are 'go' routes up the sideline. Just turn on the 2018 Spring Game, and you will see him attempt a number of passes between the numbers and the sideline. These sort of passes are not always high percentage, but they play into the skill-sets of players like Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack and even Jaylen Harris, who have elite size to go along with solid hands.
It was in this area where Barrett struggled to make throws because of his lack of arm strength. Ohio State's outside receivers didn't get many chances to make plays on the perimeter last year. This season, they will.
Haskins' strong arm and pocket presence will also benefit Ohio State's slot receivers and H-backs. Just watch Haskins' film against Michigan, and you will notice his extreme accuracy on crossing routes, just as well as his famous throw to Mack.
These throws, made both on the run and standing tall in the pocket, give Ohio State's receivers more opportunities to make plays with the ball in their hands, assuming the ball hits them in stride. Once again, while Barrett exhibited supreme leadership skills and an elite running ability when executing the zone read, he lacked in these particular areas, which limited Ohio State's receiver production.
Having a pair of 1,000-yard running backs should also help Haskins and the wide receivers. Running the ball consistently with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber will open up throwing lanes both in the play action and run-pass option attacks. If you watch the last play in the video above (2:57), you will notice Haskins' completion to Parris Campbell is an RPO, with the guard and center pulling around the left end. Haskins reads the linebacker instead of the defensive end (like you would on a traditional zone-read play), and completes the pass to Campbell.
While Haskins' big arm and accuracy downfield make him a threat, he will also need help from his receivers. Ohio State's biggest issue in the last three seasons has been a lack of separation from defenders in man coverage, something that will need to improve for the Buckeyes to have the kind of season they are capable of having. However, even if they don't take a drastic step forward, Haskins' big arm and willingness to take chances downfield will give Ohio State's wide receivers more opportunities to make plays.
The downside to this of course, is a higher rate of turnovers. Haskins clearly has a gunslinger mentality, a style of play Meyer has not coached in his time at Ohio State. Meyer has always preached ball security with his quarterbacks, and might have to be patient with Haskins at times this season. He wasn't as patient in a matchup against Illinois this year, when the redshirt-freshman lost a fumble that resulted in an Illinois score, and also resulted in Meyer putting Barrett and the first team offense back in for another series.
Haskins plays, and has a similar skill-set to that of Deshaun Watson, the former Clemson quarterback. Haskins even played the part of Watson on the scout team in preparation for the 2016 Fiesta Bowl Semi-final game, and earned praise for his performance in practice playing the role.
There will be more turnovers in the pass game for Ohio State this season, but there will be more opportunities for big plays as well. The only question is; can Dwayne Haskins bring out the best in his wide receivers and vice versa? This writer believes once again, the answer is yes.