As Ohio State redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins took the field against Michigan on Saturday, he knew what to expect. He had faced the Wolverines before, leading the Buckeyes to 17 unanswered points and a 31-20 victory in Ann Arbor in 2017.
That part of the story is well-documented, laying the groundwork for the beginning of the Haskins era at Ohio State. But head coach Urban Meyer saw something from the then-redshirt freshman a week prior.
With a 38-0 lead against Illinois on Nov. 18, 2017, Haskins got the call to come into the game with about six minutes left in the first half. After handing the ball off to then-freshman running back J.K. Dobbins for 12 yards, Haskins dropped back and was sacked for 12 yards.
His first drive in the second half was not much better, fumbling the ball and watching Illinois defensive back Ahmari Hayes return it 54 yards for the score.
In the middle of the pouring rain, Haskins faced adversity for the first time, something that, in Meyer’s opinion, was vital to his success against Michigan the following week.
“He was filling his toolbox,” Meyer said. “Because he certainly would not, in my opinion, would not have been able to do that in the rivalry game last year. And obviously the way he’s been playing, it’s just constant experience and filling the toolbox.”
From that moment on, Meyer said Haskins has been “filling his toolbox” consistently, finding his place as starting quarterback at Ohio State.
Saturday, in his second Michigan game and his first as the starting quarterback, Haskins showed that his toolbox could be full.
Facing the No. 1 pass defense in the country, Haskins completed 20-of-31 pass attempts for 396 yards, tying his career high with six passing touchdowns. He also broke the single-season Big Ten records for touchdown passes (41) and passing yards (4,003).
With these numbers brings a level of confidence that the starting quarterback showed after the 62-39 win on Saturday.
“I’m not done yet, but I want to be one of the best to ever do it when I get done playing here at this university,” Haskins said.
With each pass he throws, each touchdown he scores, Haskins has placed himself, statistically, as one of the best quarterbacks Ohio State has ever had.
He holds the Ohio State single-season records for six different categories, including total offense (4,130). He is 142 yards away from breaking former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson’s Big Ten record set in 2010.
One of three wide-receiver captains, redshirt senior Terry McLaurin is considered one of the main vocal leaders for the offense.
However, over the course of the season, through what he considered as ups and downs against then-No. 15 TCU and a road win against then-No. 12 Penn State, McLaurin watched as a quarterback with tremendous throwing ability turned into the leader that the position needs.
“He has always had the physical talent, never questioned that,” McLaurin said. “But to see him be more vocal and take charge of our offense and our team is what you want to see going down the stretch.”
That is one area Haskins said he has most improved on over the course of the season: becoming a leader of the offense and taking the steps that every quarterback needs to in order to be successful, such as knowing protections and picking up blitzes.
“I feel like I have gotten better with that every game and gotten all the tools I needed through coaching,” Haskins said. “All the trust I’ve gotten from the players keeps getting better and I think that has shown on the field.”
Meyer, who calls the quarterback position one of the most unique in all of sport, said this level of leadership is an obligation.
“What he’s asked to do — and coaches aren’t on the field, there’s 10 other guys looking at him every snap,” Meyer said. “You better give the right answer and they better trust and believe in him. And our guys certainly do.”
Meyer always refers back to one play against Maryland that defines Haskins’ development.
With less than four minutes left to go in the fourth quarter, Ohio State trailed Maryland 38-31. Haskins ended an 11-play, 75-yard drive by taking a snap and pushing himself across the offensive line for his second rushing touchdown of the day.
“The Maryland game was one that he dropped his pads and dropped some other things probably, too,” Meyer said. “At the toughest time in the game against, once again, a defense, a very good defense, and got that yard.”
But these accomplishments represent more to Haskins than just personal success. To him, it’s the work the offensive line and the receivers have done. It’s the team success, leading the No. 2 pass offense in the country.
He knows the records that have been broken were significant and where they have placed him in terms of his place in Ohio State history.
Haskins will reflect on that at one point, but not right now.
“I can’t take too long on it because there’s another game to play,” Haskins said. “So I probably won’t think about the records or the stats I have broken until after the season.”
Haskins still has something to do, something to add to his toolbox: a Big Ten Championship and a chance to play in the College Football Playoff.
For Meyer, Haskins is not done proving himself.
“Offensive football is a 10-yard war. Win each war,” Meyer said. “And however you get that first down, get the first down. And that’s how we approach it.”