A new starting quarterback in Columbus is expected to bring a major upgrade to the Ohio State passing game. We've spent the offseason talking about Dwayne Haskins, Joe Burrow, and what the offense could look like come Sept. 1 against Oregon State. There are bound to be some hiccups, but there's plenty of reason for excitement.
The spring game offered a sneak peak, but it's never wise to put too much stock into the annual scrimmage. Still, with Haskins now taking the reins, the expectation is for more NFL-type throws, a more aggressive passing game, and significantly fewer designed quarterback runs.
Urban Meyer addressed the quarterback situation – including Joe Burrow's transfer and the start of the Haskins Era – a few weeks back at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club. Other highlights included mention of Haskins' "great release" and his performance in Ann Arbor last November (via Joe Scalzo of the Canton Repository).
“It is going to change how we attack defenses.”
One thing working in Haskins' favor is the return of a talented wide receiver room. While Zone6 has been the recipient of some criticism, a new signal-caller and plenty of experience at wideout should only enhance the passing game.
Some quarterbacks spread the ball around beautifully while others tend to hone in on a reliable target or two. Last season it was K.J. Hill who led the Buckeyes in receptions with 56. In 2016 Curtis Samuel hauled in a whopping 74 while manning the hybrid role. Michael Thomas led the way in 2014 and 2015 with 54 and 56 receptions respectively.
Who should we expect to be the go-to wideout as the Haskins regime takes off?
K.J. Hill • Junior (RS) • 6-foot, 198 pounds • 2017 Stats: 56 rec, 549 yards, 3 TD
Hill may be the safest bet considering his production last season, but a rapport with J.T. Barrett doesn't really matter in 2018. In what could be his final season in Columbus, Hill is likely the most balanced of the Buckeye wideouts. He's not a burner by any means, but he finds ways to get open and seems to have more than reliable hands.
Haskins took over midway through the third quarter against Michigan. He would go on to connect with Hill twice for a total of 53 yards. He may very well be the most reliable option in 2018.
Parris Campbell • Senior (RS) • 6-foot-1, 208 pounds • 2017 Stats: 40 rec, 584 yards, 3 TD
Parris Campbell may be the opposite of a guy like K.J. Hill. He's certainly one of Ohio State's fastest players and is a threat to take it to the house every time he has the ball in his possession. The problem has been an egregious number of drops. He's never going to be a possession receiver, but the big-play ability is off the charts.
Campbell was utilized on crossing routes quite regularly in 2017, so it will be interesting to see if that remains a big part of the passing game this season. He's almost sure to be used on screens and designed runs as well.
Terry McLaurin • Senior (RS) • 6-foot-1, 204 pounds • 2017 Stats: 29 rec, 436 yards, 6 TD
McLaurin was Ohio State's third-leading receiver a season ago, and he too returns as a redshirt senior. There were nine games in 2017 in which he only managed one or two receptions, but again we're looking at something entirely different for the season ahead.
I view McLaurin as more of a "splash" receiver who will have a few huge plays such as the above 84-yarder against Wisconsin, but his chances of evolving into a true go-to option seem fairly minimal. He's a speed guy who should be able to take the top off of defenses – and Haskins certainly has the arm strength – but I'm just not sure how often he will be targeted.
Austin Mack • Junior • 6-foot-2, 215 pounds • 2017 Stats: 24 rec, 343 yards, 2 TD
Austin Mack is best known for being on the receiving end of a crucial third down conversion against Michigan. I suppose that's a great thing to be remembered for as the Haskins/Mack connection may have been the most important play of the entire season.
The Buckeye wideout and his new quarterback developed a rapport during the recruiting process, so perhaps that carries over into 2018? With plenty of receiving options available, I don't think anyone knows exactly how Mack will be utilized, but Haskins was definitely looking his way in Ann Arbor last year.
Binjimen Victor • Junior • 6-foot-4, 200 pounds • 2017 Stats: 23 rec, 349 yards, 7 TD
Victor is a much different player than guys like Campbell, Hill, and McLaurin. The Florida native has the ideal size to excel on the outside, but thus far he's yet to fully put it together.
The 6-foot-4 target has been used as a red-zone threat, and that will likely only be enhanced in what should be an improved passing game. He's got long arms and a great catch radius, but Victor also had some drops a season ago. He needs to be more consistent and still looks like a player who could benefit from bulking up a bit.
Johnnie Dixon • Senior (RS) • 5-foot-11, 198 pounds • 2017 Stats: 18 rec, 422 yards, 8 TD
For a player who's battled through a number of knee injuries, Johnnie Dixon's 2017 campaign was a joy to watch unfold. It actually feels like Dixon caught way more than 18 balls, but my memory may be skewed a bit thanks to his two-touchdown fourth quarter against the Nittany Lions. That performance certainly was his most memorable from a season ago.
He was a touchdown machine in 2017 as he led the team with eight receiving touchdowns despite the limited number of receptions. If Johnnie Dixon can stay healthy, then he's sure to once again have a role in Ohio State's passing attack.
There's certainly a chance that Haskins will end up being more of a distributor than someone who relies heavily on one particular target, but a new starter developing a chemistry and identifying a security blanket would hardly be a surprise.
Mack and Victor both arrived with Haskins prior to the 2016 season, and the trio became quite familiar with one another during the recruiting process. K.J. Hill was the most reliable target last year, and both Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin are big-play threats. It's also worth noting that Demario McCall was the star of the spring game, so it will be interesting to see what role awaits as he comes off an unexpected redshirt season.
J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber may very well lead the way for the offense, but Zone6 is likely to see an emergence with Haskins at the helm.