Many Ohio State fans have been clamoring to see more of quarterback Dwayne Haskins since the Buckeyes’ 31-16 loss to Oklahoma in Week 2.
On Saturday, those fans were given the opportunity to watch plenty of the redshirt freshman, as he was under center from the Buckeyes’ last drive in the first half until the team’s last drive in Ohio State’s 54-21 defeat of UNLV at Ohio Stadium.
Overall, the numbers he put on display were solid. He completed 15-of-23 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while establishing the deep ball by completing four passes for 20-plus yards.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said while he was impressed with Haskins, he was far from perfect.
“He’s got work to do, but you can see the talent,” Meyer said. “I think Dwayne played pretty good.”
With 3:32 remaining in the first half and the Buckeyes leading the Rebels 37-7, Haskins made his second appearance to spell Barrett, who had already thrown for five touchdowns.
After three rushes from freshman running back J.K. Dobbins put Ohio State at UNLV’s 42-yard line, Haskins completed his first pass to wideout Terry McLaurin for nine yards. Then, after an incompletion and a 5-yard rush to the 28-yard line, Haskins found his target, walk-on wide receiver C.J. Saunders, for his first career touchdown pass on a bullet fired through traffic.
“I didn’t know I threw a touchdown until after it happened,” Haskins said. “But once we scored and I got back to the sideline and go, ‘Oh wait, I just threw my first touchdown pass here.’ It was a pretty special moment.”
Haskins demonstrated every part of his game the rest of the day. He showed that while his mobility was limited and that he lacks Barrett’s escapability, he is capable of running if the play breaks down. He rushed for 31 yards on six carries.
More importantly, he showed his ability to fit throws into tight windows and put plenty of air underneath the football.
“I would say that if there is a window, I feel like I can throw it in there. Even if it’s a little tight,” Haskins said. “But I definitely want to go through my reads first so I don’t want to force anything. But I learn from the mistakes and keep getting better.”
And there were plenty of mistakes made by Haskins in the game.
In the third quarter, Haskins sailed a pass over a pair of receivers in the end zone. He had several other moments where his passes would sail out of bounds or miss his target as the result of a poor read.
The worst moment for Haskins came two minutes into the fourth quarter when he misread the coverage and threw a pass right into the hands of linebacker/defensive back Javin White, who took the ball 65 yards for a touchdown.
“That’s inexcusable. Threw it right to the guy,” Meyer said. “Obviously, it’s a young player, a freshman. And they’ve got to go through that.”
Haskins explained he believed the defense would go without a safety on the play, and instead played cover one. And when the young quarterback looked for the intended receiver down the middle, he said the wideout was covered by the safety. He was then forced to look outside, making a quick decision that resulted in the interception.
“I couldn’t throw the five-step into the safety, so I threw out, but it wasn’t high, outside. It was kind of inside and got picked,” Haskins said. “It was a bad ball. It’s on me.”
With the game out of reach when Haskins threw the interception, this was just a learning experience. The Buckeyes might have lost possession of the ball and given up a touchdown, but the interception brought the score to 54-21 with 13:00 remaining in the game.
And for a young quarterback like Haskins who might be the eventual successor to Barrett when the redshirt senior leaves the Buckeyes after this season, having a leader like Barrett who has thrown interceptions at critical moments and is there to talk him through what went wrong and how to build on it could be crucial in Haskins’ growth and development.
“So with that, trying to get those guys to feel comfortable and go ask the receiver, ‘Hey, on this look, what did you see? What was the coverage out there?’” Barrett said. “That’s a lot of the in-game adjustments that’s going to be needed. I think it’s good for [the backup quarterbacks] to have those conversations so when it’s their time to go out there and play, they’re comfortable because they’re done it before.”
Despite the interception, Haskins felt confident overall in his performance. He said he was pleased with the way he played and that he enjoyed getting an opportunity to take the field alongside the second-string players he typically practices with and show off what the backups are capable of.
But at the end of the day, he knows the starting job is not his to take just yet. In his eyes, Barrett is still the starter and his job is just to be ready whenever he gets a chance to play.
“God forbid [Barrett] got hurt, but I feel like I have a great camaraderie with all my teammates. Whether that’s with the ones, twos or threes, seniors, junior, sophomores, freshmen, I feel we’re all very close,” Haskins said. “So even if something did happen to JT, God forbid, I feel like we’d be very comfortable.”