Ohio State’s 45-24 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship felt a lot like just about every Ohio State game this year. The Buckeyes let Northwestern stick around for three quarters before stepping on the gas late and pulling away for a win that looks better on paper than on film.
Oh, and when Ohio State needed a spark, Dwayne Haskins rose to the occasion, just as he has all year. When Ohio State needed saving from conservative play calling, Dwayne Haskins was there to save the day. That’s just what Dwayne Haskins does. Call it Dwayne magic, call it a Heisman moment, whatever you call it, remember that at the core, it was the same thing Dwayne has done all year. When the Buckeyes need saving, as they did quite often this year, Dwayne Haskins was there—perhaps for the final time.
Let’s reflect on that a little bit. Dwayne Haskins, in what will almost certainly be his only season as the starter in Columbus, set basically every passing record he could, be it school or conference. He led the Buckeyes to a 12-1 season and a Big Ten Title. He captained a top five offense nationally, and probably single-handedly won at least five games for the Buckeyes with his late game heroics and general excellent. On top of all that, he had one, maybe two bad games, and in them he threw for 270 in a win over a top 25 team on the road (Penn State) and 227 in a win over Michigan State, which was also away from Ohio Stadium. Outside of those two, and maybe the Nebraska game, Dwayne was the best player in a Buckeye uniform.
In his first year as a starting college football quarterback, that’s insane. That’s almost unbelievable, especially if we hadn’t seen it happen in front of our eyes all year long. It was a disappointing year on the whole, but the struggles Ohio State faced were never centered around Dwayne. He was almost always excellent.
Because of that, and because we probably only have 60 minutes left of Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State in the upcoming Rose Bowl, I want to do things a little differently in this film study. Rather than looking at the schematic stuff so much, I want to focus on what Dwayne Haskins did against Northwestern, and how incredible his performance was. I’ll still talk about play design because I can’t help myself, but this week, let’s enjoy some vintage Dwayne Haskins for possibly the penultimate time.
We’ll start with this play from the first drive of the game, because it shows just about all of the growth Dwayne has gone through as a player this year in a nice eight second clip. First, he reads the whole field rather than focusing on one target. As he does that, he moves up in the pocket rather than panicking because of the pressure, as he did earlier in the year. Finally, he delivers a dart right where it needs to be, allowing Parris Campbell to go up and make a play. This is a quarterback trusting his receivers and his arm.
While quite a few of the plays in this game that we’re going to talk about were in large part successful due to play design and game management, this isn’t one. The play is fine, but this is a touchdown because Dwayne Haskins escapes the pocket, and Terry McLaurin knows both to roll with his quarterback and fight a soft spot in the zone. When Dwayne Haskins escapes the pocket, or even has more than three seconds to throw, the defense is in serious trouble.
Back to scheme talk for a minute, even though this play came back because of a penalty, it was beautifully designed and executed. The deep route, paired with a corner route and a threat in the flats with a running back is exactly how you attack a zone, and I would’ve loved see Ohio State do it more on Saturday. The safety bites on the go route, as does the corner, and the linebacker is held in check by the man in the flats, leaving KJ Hill wide open in space. Dwayne Haskins hits that every single time.
I’m going to use this play, and a play I’ll talk about later as an excuse to rave about Ohio State’s newfound love of rolling Dwayne Haskins out. I hated it last year, because J.T. Barrett didn’t have the arm strength for it. Dwayne Haskins does, and because of that, you get plays like this one. Leaving the running back in to help the line block while pulling a guard out to protect the rolling Haskins is brilliant stuff, and a great way to get Haskins more time to survey the field. I would’ve loved to see more of this all season long, rather than in just these last few games.
They do it here too, and throw in a tight end motion to help counter the seven in the box look and likely blitzer on the play side. Once again, Dwayne Haskins has time, and hits an open receiver for an easy first down.
After spending a good chunk of the second quarter trying to run into a zone for some unknown reason, Ohio State goes back to its strengths here just before the half, and boy does it pay off. Haskins drops, moves a safety with his eyes, hops up in the pocket and puts the ball directly into Terry McLaurin’s hands from almost 50 yards out. Credit to both players, this might be the best throw from Haskins this season, and could be the best catch of Terry McLaurin’s career.
We’ll jump ahead to late in the third quarter (same drive as the rollout completion to Bin Victor earlier), because Ohio State, just like in the second quarter, spent most of the third quarter running into a wall and throwing the ball sideways. As soon as they go back to the downfield passing game, we get, well, this. The tight end crossing route brings the defense in, leaving a safety in single coverage on Chris Olave. At that point, it’s easy to guess the final result.
I’m going to talk about these plays in tandem, because for all intents and purposes they’re the same play, with the same result. Both involve a receiver sweep play action out of a bunch look and a completion to a wide open wheel route. Both were set up all year by Ohio State’s numerous pop passes to various receivers, and both work to perfection, drawing just about every defender in for a second to defend what they expect to be a sweep, while J.K. Dobbins outruns a linebacker and Haskins puts the pass on the money. I haven’t seen Ohio State do this all year, and it’s more elite play calling and design from Ryan Day, just like last week. It wasn’t a great all around day for the offensive play calling, which I thought was too conservative, but the end of the game was packed with excellent calls.
I’ll end this, fittingly, with one of the best throws I’ve ever seen. Ignore the scheme, the blocking, all of that, just for a moment. This is football at its purest form. This is a receiver using his sheer athleticism to beat his man, and the most talented quarterback in Ohio State history launching the ball 60 yards to get it to him. Sometimes football can be simple when you have receivers like these, and a quarterback like Dwayne Haskins.