Going into the 2018 season opener against Oregon State, offensive coordinator and acting head coach Ryan Day said he was not going to change the offense with redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
However, it seemed as though many viewed Haskins as more of an “anti-J.T. Barrett.” While Barrett excelled in his running ability and precision in the run-pass option game, Haskins thrives in the pocket, being known to move the ball downfield with his arm rather than his legs.
Among these differences, Haskins and Barrett do have something in common: accuracy.
Describing Haskins as a “rhythm passer,” Day had to form an offense that took his new quarterback’s attributes and paired it with the signature Ohio State offense.
With that, Day prepared the team during the offseason to play with increased tempo, running a no-huddle style offense, all to the benefit of the new quarterback behind center.
“For a young quarterback, at times, you get a feel for does it stress him out or does he feel more comfortable in that environment,” Day said. “We found it does make him feel more comfortable. They like playing fast, and in the no-huddle offense. I think they feel comfortable playing at that speed.”
With that in mind heading into fall camp, Day said he had assistant athletic director for football sport performance Mickey Marotti get players, especially the offensive linemen, in shape, making sure they run well and that they are athletically ready to run the offense at a faster pace than last season.
While Marotti prepared the players, Day and the coaching staff helped create an offense that utilized consistent rotation with a wide receiver room the acting head coach considers “10-deep,” a tight end room rotating three players and an offensive line with versatility.
Even though Ohio State has prepared for increased pace of play since the start of fall camp, players still view it as something they need to get used to. In redshirt junior running back Mike Weber’s opinion, though, the payoff for speed is much greater.
“Sometimes you get tired and you have to push through, but you know that the defense is tired as well,” Weber said. “That’s the advantage we were trying to get, get the defense moving and discombobulated. It actually helped us execute plays because they were tired and they weren’t set. I’ll be tired for that.”
Ohio State showed its offensive pace in the season opener against Oregon State, running 87 plays with a time of possession of 31:16.
After the game, Day said the offense was “moving at a good clip,” mentioning that the overall offensive approach was clean, but wanted to get to the official in-between plays a bit quicker.
Haskins, completing 73.3 percent of his passes for 313 yards and five touchdowns against the Beavers, showed off a bit of his throwing ability on Saturday. Beginning his first start with a 27-yard post route to redshirt senior wide receiver Terry McLaurin, Haskins completed five passes for more than 20 yards, two of which were crossing routes.
Day said that with the faster tempo, the focus of the pass offense was not necessarily trying to beat the Oregon State secondary deep, especially with the soft coverage he was seeing from the unit.
“If you’re playing fast, and you’re playing in rhythm and the guys are taking the underneath stuff — we called some plays that in certain coverages would dictate throwing a post or seam or down the field,” Day said. “But because the coverage was softer, you saw us come underneath and get some completions.”
Instead of stretching the field vertically, Haskins led the Ohio State offense with a quick-completion, Barrett-esque look. He used the horizontal game, throwing bubble screens to h-backs and short speed sweeps in the middle, making the back end of the Oregon State defense have to chase the Buckeye wide receivers.
Even with facing a defense with cornerbacks playing in soft coverage, what Day considered as “respecting our speed,” Haskins still has the ability to throw the ball downfield. Haskins’ quarterbacks coach knows the desire of a young quarterback to make a big play.
“You can’t force things down the field, and some young guys want to do that,” Day said. “They want to take their shots. They get hungry, want to take a shot down the field, if there is a safety sitting in the middle of the field at 25 yards, you can’t throw a post, so that’s all part of maturing.”
Redshirt junior wide receiver K.J. Hill took advantage of the emphasis on the horizontal offense and the tempo, leading the team with six catches on six targets for 82 yards.
“We want to play fast at all times because it keeps the defense on their toes,” Hill said. “We feel like we are in more shape than other teams and we are going to pound them until they basically just get exhausted and give up.”
Weber said the focus on tempo is still there heading into the conference opener against Rutgers. Even if there is an ability to go faster, the running back views the speed at which the offense worked as something it aims to become the norm.
“We actually run a lot of plays in a short amount of time,” Weber said. “If we move faster than that, that’s crazy, man.”