At 12:04 PM, eastern standard time on Tuesday, Dwayne Haskins officially became the next starting quarterback at Ohio State, as his competition for the job, redshirt Junior Joe Burrow, announced his intention to play his final two seasons elsewhere. This isn’t a particularly surprising development, as Haskins was a heavy favorite coming into the competition after a great season in 2017 backing up J.T. Barrett, but the confirmation is still important.
The confirmation is important because it means we now officially know who will be running the show in 2018, and more likely than not, based on interviews, quotes, film and the history of offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson, what the offense will look like with Haskins running it.
Haskins is a big departure from dual-threat quarterbacks like Barrett, Braxton Miller and Terrelle Pryor, and he’s the first unquestioned (Cardale and J.T. battled all season and were questioned constantly in 2015) pass-first starter in Columbus since Troy Smith in 2006.
If you need a refresher, Troy Smith won the Heisman in 2006, and put up an absolutely astounding season, one of the best in Buckeye history for all signal callers. To say that Haskins could have a similar showing is obviously extremely hyperbolic and frankly unfair to Dwayne, who grew up watching Troy Smith — and is very familiar with his Buckeye history — but to say that he has a similar ceiling is not out of the question.
So what exactly makes Haskins such a high-potential player, and why should Ohio State fans be extremely excited about him being the quarterback for the foreseeable future? Well, it’s all about traits, and the talent he’s flashed during limited playing time. Let’s take a look at those traits, and what makes Haskins so special.
Dwayne’s greatest asset as a player, and the first thing that pops on all of his film, is the sheer power and strength he throws the ball with. He is as natural and as strong of a thrower as any quarterback in the country, and when necessary, he can fit a pass into an incredibly small gap because of his strength.
Like we see here, this touchdown is a direct result of Haskins putting enough zip on the ball to get it through a tight window. His big frame (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) allows him to generate a ton of force, and all of it is needed for this throw to get to C.J. Saunders. His anticipation is great here as well, but the power makes the throw work.
This is especially important for making Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson’s offense work in 2018. They love to run mesh concept, straight out of the Mike Leach/Hal Mumme playbook, and Dwayne does exactly what that style requires.
Mesh concepts are built around two underneath drag routes, like the ones being run by the “X” and “Z” receivers. That action is designed to pull corners away from the outside, pull linebackers in, and if it works well, freeze safeties. It usually works well, and that’s where the “Y” and “S” receivers come in. The beauty in the mesh is that it’s built on creating open space by forcing defenders to choose, and when that space is created, the quarterback simply has to make the throw.
That’s why Dwayne is so valuable. With speedy receivers like Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill and Demario McCall running drags, while deep threats like Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon shred the defense deep, Dwayne’s ability to make almost any throw on the field becomes extremely difficult to defend.
Dwayne showed the ability to run the mesh to perfection last season, completing underneath passes like the one above with ease, while also being unable to uncork the deep ball, like in a few plays we’ll look at in a bit. On this play, he reads McCall beating his defender underneath, and hits him quickly in stride for an easy first down. First downs are the first goal of the mesh, and Dwayne knows that very well. He also knows that they can be much more than that, however.
Here’s what separates Haskins from Barrett, Burrow, and every Buckeye quarterback since Troy Smith. This is an NFL-caliber throw, and an elite one at that. This is the kind of strength, touch, and accuracy that will make Dwayne Haskins very, very wealthy in a few years. That’s also what makes him such a great fit for this offense. Ohio State had no issue with the underneath portion of the mesh concept in 2017. In 2018, they’ll finally be able to beat teams over the top as well.
A key part of what makes Haskins strength and zip work, on any and all throws, is how quickly the ball leaves his hand. Trying to throw into a tight window doesn’t work with an extended wind-up, and Haskins is able to make those throws because of his quick release.
This is especially important on throws like the one above, and underneath throws like it. A quick release makes slants, and quick-hitters work, and Haskins’ quick draw makes it nearly impossible for a defensive back to jump in front of his passes, especially if they’re already behind a cross, slant or drag route. On this throw, Haskins gets the ball out to Rashod Berry quickly, and allows him to make a play before defenders can close in on him. Berry makes a great play, but Haskins’ throw allows this play to happen.
The quick release is also important on intermediate passes like this one. This pass very well may have won Ohio State the game, and it was because of Haskins’ quick motion, and ability to generate the force to throw this through two defenders. This completion is the result of great timing, power, zip, a quick release, and above all else, confidence. Dwayne makes these throws with ease.
One of the common knocks on Dwayne Haskins is that he’s not a good enough runner to survive in Ohio State’s read option offense. That claim is untrue for two reasons. Firstly, Ohio State will be shifting towards a significantly more pass-heavy offense this fall with Haskins and Ryan Day at the helm, and the quarterback doesn’t need to be a freak athlete to run RPOs and move in the pocket.
Secondly, Dwayne is perfectly fine, and even downright solid running with the ball. He’s capable of escaping the pocket and scrambling, or keeping the ball on designed options, and he’s just plain good at maneuvering in the pocket. He has the pocket presence of a seasoned pro, and the strength to throw on the run when he leaves the pocket.
We see that strength here, as Dwayne runs to the right on a designed roll-out, and delivers a strike to Terry McLaurin nearly 20 yards down the field, in stride. That’s not an easy throw to make, and Dwayne has absolutely no issue with it, even in the driving rain. Throws like that are common in RPOs, and Dwayne has shown proficiency with them many times.
He does it on this throw as well, rolling out, avoiding a pass rusher on the outside, and making a beautiful touch pass, right over top of two defenders off of his back foot.
He’s also capable just as a scrambler, or designed runner. That’s obviously not the best way to use him, but as we saw in the Michigan game, he has no issue with running the ball, as he beats future first round pick, and certified great defender Rashan Gary to the edge, nearly scoring in the process.
Mobility is never going to be an issue for Dwayne. He’s no Braxton Miller, or even J.T. Barrett, but he’s perfectly fine how he is. Urban Meyer isn’t dumb, and neither are his offensive coordinators. They know Dwayne’s limitations, and they know how he’s best used: passing the ball.
Everything Dwayne does, and all of the throws I’ve talked about to this point, center around the one thing that every great quarterback needs. Confidence. A player could be stronger, more accurate, and smarter than every other quarterback in the country, but if he’s not confident in both his arm, and his receivers, that talent means nothing.
We saw Cardale Jones struggle with it in 2015. We saw J.T. Barrett struggle with it every season after his fantastic redshirt freshman campaign. Dwayne Haskins is one of the most confident quarterbacks I’ve ever seen, and he needs that confidence to reach his potential in 2018 and beyond.
Confidence is what makes this throw happen. A quarterback that doesn’t trust his arm, or his receiver wouldn’t ever try to make this throw, and Dwayne lets it fly with absolutely no hesitation. A confident quarterback, however, is a double edged sword, and Ohio State fans need to be ready to accept that. Dwayne will make stupid, frustrating mistake at times, he will try to force throws that he has no business making, and he will throw more interceptions than Buckeye fans are used to.
He’ll also make more jaw-dropping, eye-popping, “did you just see THAT?!” throws than any Ohio State quarterback has in more than a decade, and more than many other quarterback in the country. He has the talent around him to be a legend in Columbus, and if things go the right way, he may have a Heisman trophy to put next to a College Football Playoff trophy in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center before his career is over.
That can only happen if his coaches, teammates, and fans let him do what he does best. Dwayne will be Dwayne, and when he’s allowed to be himself, there isn’t a team in the country that can stop him. Ohio State just has to give him the ball, and get out of the way.