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Football: Ohio State quarterback battle might have frontrunner in Dwayne Haskins

Ohio State redshirt freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins (7) throws a pass in the fourth quarter of the game against Michigan on Nov. 25 in Ann Arbor. Ohio State won 31-20. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Standing in the locker room following Ohio State’s Cotton Bowl victory, redshirt freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins took ownership of what he believed to be his new role.

“I’m just going to attack it as I’m the guy, I’m the starter and it starts … today,” he said. “The mentality that I’m lead the team, just how J.T. [Barrett] did it. Just do it in my own way, but not like how he did it.

“It’s the mentality of guys looking for a new leader. I feel I can be that person.”

Just three weeks after that game, Barrett’s last as a Buckeye, Haskins’ mentality seems to have rubbed off on his veteran teammates, many of whom talked about him Friday as if he has a hefty lead to become next season’s starting quarterback.

No player outright said Haskins will start the season opener Sept. 1 against Oregon State, but several implied excitement for an offense more focused on passing downfield and moving toward a running back-focused run game.

“I just think that the running will be more on me and [freshman running back] J.K. [Dobbins] and more passing down the field,” redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber said.

Barrett finished second on the team in rushing yards the past four seasons. The offense often ran options with Barrett deciding to rush the ball or hand it off to a running back. In crucial third- or fourth-and-short situations, the Buckeyes would often rely on the dual-threat quarterback to act as a power runner in order to convert first downs.

If Haskins becomes the starter, the offense would likely not rely nearly as heavily on designed quarterback runs, which effectively became an out for head coach Urban Meyer when the offense was not clicking. When completing Ohio State’s comeback against Michigan in November, Haskins showed the ability to scramble when the pocket broke down, but the offense shifted away the quantity of rushes called when Barrett was quarterback.

The quarterback run would possibly remain the most important part of the offense if redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow or freshman Tate Martell won the starting quarterback spot since both are more adept on the ground.

“I just feel like the offense can be electrifying again with a more of a passing [element] into it,” redshirt sophomore H-back K.J. Hill said.

Dobbins said he expects the running backs to get more carries next season, which he thinks should not surprise anyone who has become accustomed to seeing a high amount of quarterback carries.

“Nah, I don’t find it strange at all because I mean we’ve got two great running backs, so why not run us?” Dobbins said.

When asked how the offense would change if Haskins won the job, sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa said he believes it would be beneficial to only feature Dobbins and Weber in the run game instead of the quarterback.

“I just think [Haskins is] a drop-back passer,” Bosa said. “I think that’s what we should be, a team that throws the ball with the quarterback and runs the ball with the running backs, and I think that will be really good just to get the running backs the ball more and have Dwayne just slinging it back there and making our receivers look really good.”

Of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job, Haskins possesses the strongest arm. His teammates have called it an “NFL arm.” He showed it off early in the season in the second half blowout wins, then showcased it against the Wolverines.

With Barrett at the helm, the Buckeyes struggled to maintain a consistent downfield passing game. If Haskins becomes the starter, the potential for an increased vertical passing game increases, which redshirt junior receiver Terry McLaurin said will be the next step for the offense.

The competition to replace Barrett began less than one month ago, but Haskins seems to already hold a substantial edge.

“I think Dwayne will be a good leader if he’s the guy,” Bosa said. “Not many people see the fire that he has and I think he does have that fire the starting quarterback needs. I’ve seen it a couple times in the Michigan game and some other times that he’s played, so I think he’ll take the role really well.”

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