TIME SQUAD VOL.3: Broken Arrow

By Ramzy Nasrallah on February 2, 2022 at 1:15 pm

Ohio State's 2017 backup QB competition ended before it ever had the chance to get spicy.

J.T. Barrett, the reigning Silver Football winner, two-time B1G QB of the Year and All-B1G 1st teamer (he'd finish his career with three of each) who would break 25 Ohio State records and overtake Drew Brees for career passing yards was the Buckeyes' starter and a rare incumbent conference legend. This was uncomplicated.

Behind him, it was complicated.

Dwayne Haskins and Joey Burrow were deadlocked for the backup spot behind Barrett while splitting practice reps with the second team. They were both so well-regarded that incoming freshman phenom (no stutter) Tate Martell would likely redshirt. This competition would be spicy.

But then, it just...ended. That backup QB derby turned out to be uncomplicated, because:

damn it

Burrow joined Braxton Miller in the pantheon of OSU QBs who didn't make it out of August intact.

Dan published the story above at 8:19am on August 23. A little over two hours later he ran the follow-up, titled Next Man Up: Dwayne Haskins Becomes Ohio State's Backup Quarterback. If QB depth charting was a race, Burrow had just taken a spill while Haskins maintained his stride. This battle was over. The spiciness would take years to materialize.

Here's what the Ohio State QB ledger looked like at the conclusion of the 2017 season:

J.T. BARRETT 14 240 371 64.7 3,053 8.2 9.0 35 9 160.1 165 798 4.8 12
DWAYNE HASKINS 8 40 57 70.2 565 9.9 10.5 4 1 173.1 24 86 3.6 0
JOEY BURROW 5 7 11 63.6 61 5.5 5.5 0 0 110.2 3 (5) (1.7) 0

Statistical separation - but it wasn't even that close when you remember the qualitative details. Barrett started every game while Haskins was the first QB off the bench, due to the events of August uncomplicating the pecking order. Burrow appeared in as many laughers as time allowed once his broken hand healed.

Only once did Barrett exit with a game still in doubt. It was in Ann Arbor in the 2nd half, and the events that followed his knee injury that afternoon effectively ended Burrow's Ohio State tenure.

Cardale Jones had picked up the save in 2014 under similar-ish circumstances. This time, it was Haskins rudely introducing himself to the Wolverines - and doing so with gusto.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Haskins elevated himself from Garbage Time Backup to Michigan Game Legend, the most prized and rarified air Columbus has to offer. That ledger above doesn't tell you Haskins went 6/7 for 94 yards which included this clutch dime to Austin Mack - while rushing for another 24 on three carries (wow - he's mobile, he can really run!) all with Gold Pants on the line.

So the following January, rumors began swirling Burrow might be transferring on account of Haskins' elevated status and the insurmountable head start to claiming Barrett's vacancy. He quickly put an end to that speculation:

Four months later - in the same month he would participate in Ohio State's graduation ceremonies - he announced his intention to take a graduate transfer elsewhere and ended up selecting LSU over Cincinnati (Burrow would end up in Cincinnati anyway; it was only a matter of time).

Four days after his announcement, Urban Meyer named Haskins Ohio State's starter. Three months after that, Burrow cleared out the LSU QB room and won the starting job in Baton Rouge, giving both of Barrett's former backups QB1 status at major programs.

So it was established in the summer of 2018 that the two quarterbacks and friends would forever be compared to each other. Here is how they performed during their respective first seasons as starters:

DWAYNE HASKINS 14 373 533 70.0 4,831 9.1 10.3 50 8 174.1 79 108 1.4 4
JOEY BURROW 13 219 379 57.8 2,894 7.6 7.9 16 5 133.2 128 399 3.1 7
Todd Boeckman, 2007 13 191 299 63.9 2,379 8.0 7.6 25 14 148.9 56 63 1.1 0

(I threw first-time starter Todd Boeckman running Tresselball in there as a control variable).

Haskins threw to Parris Campbell, KJ Hill, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, Austin Mack, Ben Victor and JK Dobbins while Burrow had Justin Jefferson, Stephen Sullivan, Ja'Marr Chase, Derrick Dillon and Clyde Edwards-Hellaire. No shortage of quality targets at either school for new starters.

The Buckeyes repeated as B1G champions, LSU improved from 9-4 to 10-3 while moving from Danny Etling to Burrow - and Ohio State's decision to bet on Haskins paid off handsomely.

And that's how the world will always remember Haskins vs. Burrow after 2018. But then, 2019 happened, as did 2020 and 2021. Burrow has led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in 2022, and people are talking about 2017 all over again.

Welcome back to Time Squad, where we venture into Ohio State football history, meddle with a single moment and then weigh the consequences of violating nature to see if it was worth it.

This week we're messing with Ohio State's 2017 backup QB competition. We're going to add the spice it was deprived of when Burrow broke his hand.


This keeps coming up, especially with Burrow preparing for the Super Bowl while Haskins is trying to stick with his second NFL team, battling the likes of Mason Rudolph for the open Steelers' starting job. How on earth did Ohio State choose Haskins over Burrow?

Ohio State didn't make any decision in 2017. Burrow's broken hand ended the decision-making.

Haskins put some distance between himself and Burrow in Ann Arbor, then proceeded to have the most prolific year in Ohio State history as a first-time starter in a season that began with turmoil.

He won the Silver Football, decimated Michigan with the division title on the line and took home the B1G championship game and Rose Bowl MVP trophies. Heisman finalist. Not bad.

All while Burrow enjoyed a nice, if not Boeckmanish campaign at LSU. The following season, he grew a cape and delivered a supernatural season, which has carried over into his professional career - and that's what has gotten a lot of people anxious about what might have been in Columbus if he had played in Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson's offense.

It took BURROW a full season AT LSU to blossom into the runaway Heisman WINNER he became in 2019. MEANWHILE, HASKINS WAS ALREADY REWRITING OHIO STATE AND B1G RECORD BOOKS.

We have some options here for meddling with the past and giving Burrow even footing in a battle with Haskins for the starting job at Ohio State. The whole thing unravels quickly!

Let's un-break Burrow's hand in 2017. Give him a bad burrito that keeps him out of practice. This:

  • Reignites the backup QB derby, which leaves almost all of the regular season intact but changes the course of the Michigan game if Barrett still gets hurt (we'll get to that next).
  • Takes Haskins' historic 2018 season off the board and inserts pre-cape Burrow into the equation.

Yikes, okay. Let's pivot and prevent Barrett from exiting that game in Ann Arbor, either by neutralizing the rogue camera man who inadvertently bumped his equipment into Barrett's knee which gave him the limp he played with, or by removing the play that ultimately ended his day. This:

  • Erases Haskins' Michigan heroics while jeopardizing the win.
  • Inserts pre-cape Burrow into the equation in 2018.

Burrow then stays in Columbus for graduate studies and to battle Haskins for the starting job.

Haskins' 2018 production dwarfed Burrow's at LSU - he had the faster start of the two. Over the long run, Burrow caught up and soared past Haskins in terms of quarterback play.

joey sends texas home

But it took a full season as a starter for Burrow to blossom into the runaway Heisman candidate he became in 2019. This is far more complicated than simply having Ryan Hamby catch the ball and beat Texas in 2005 or moving David Brown two inches to his right to prevent John Kolesar from winning the 1988 Michigan game.

Burrow just might have needed Joe Brady and Ed Orgeron to thrive as he did. Clearly, Haskins needed Day and Wilson. Hindsight is of no help here; Ohio State made the correct decision at the time.

What if Burrow stays, platoons with or backs up Haskins in 2018 and then starts in 2019 with Haskins in the NFL? Okay, you just jeopardized Justin Fields' arrival. We're unraveling.

Watching Burrow flourish from 2019 onward has been one of the most enjoyable stories across every level of football, but his 2017 injury appears to have benefited all parties - Haskins, LSU, the Bengals and Burrow. We'll close with a gentle, unfortunate reminder that Ohio State didn't fail to win the CFP title in 2018 or 2019 because of quarterback play. 

Verdict: No changes. Time Squad, let's try this again in another space and era.

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