Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer knows the pressures associated with the annual Michigan game. It’s the time of the year during which jobs are kept or lost and legacies are cemented.
These are pressures he has felt before.
“The amount of time and effort that you put into these games — and certainly there’s no bigger than this — you know, the word ‘pressure’ absolutely is there,” Meyer said. “For someone to say there’s no pressure, that’s not true.”
These pressures were introduced to redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins last season.
After former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett left the 2017 Michigan game in the third quarter with an injury, the spotlight was on Haskins, who had played in parts of eight previous games that season.
“I’d say I was pretty calm in that situation,” Haskins said. “I didn’t have too many racing thoughts or thoughts of concern or of self-doubt.”
With a 20-14 deficit in the third quarter, Haskins helped the Ohio State offense score 17 unanswered points, completing 6-of-7 passes for 94 yards in the come-from-behind, 31-20 Ohio State win.
Haskins said going into the atmosphere and gaining the trust of his teammates through his play in the second half gave him confidence as he took the starting quarterback job in 2018, leading Ohio State to its No. 4 pass offense in the country.
But he has had no lack of confidence through 11 games in the 2018 season.
Now, as he leads Ohio State into the Michigan game as the starter, Haskins is developing not only confidence, but leadership and ownership of the offense.
This is a requirement of any of his quarterbacks based on the necessity of the position, Meyer said.
“The quarterback position is the most unique position, in my opinion, in really all of sport, where everybody’s relying on you. Everybody’s looking at you,” Meyer said. “You have a responsibility what the other 10 guys are doing. You have to make all kinds of decisions within 1.8 to 2.5 seconds. And you have to be a tough guy. You have to lead.”
In the first possession of overtime against Maryland on Saturday, the redshirt sophomore quarterback led the Buckeyes downfield, extending the drive on a 4th-and-1 with an 11-yard completion to redshirt junior tight end Rashod Berry.
But that was not the play Meyer remembers. It was the 5-yard zone read, scoring the touchdown that wound up winning the game.
“Dwayne really took a step, really took a step,” Meyer said. “No more important than the last play of the game when he dropped his pads and had to get in there and he got in there.”
This is something offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day has worked on with Haskins this season — to not just be the player who can play football, but be the player who can lead the team.
“The two of them — everybody has big dreams and part of being a big dream is being that guy that can move a team, not just throw a pretty pass but do things you have to do to win a game,” Meyer said.
That is going to be the difference between Haskins’ past Michigan game and Saturday. This year, Haskins is the starter, bringing an expectation of not only leading an offense to a second-half, comeback win, but to a four-quarter victory, a victory that places Ohio State back to where it expected to be at the beginning of the season.
Haskins knows the stakes. He has known the stakes for the entire season. He said he has watched Michigan every week waiting for this game.
As a first-year starting quarterback, Haskins has the unique opportunity to know what a Michigan game is like before he starts one himself. He knows what it takes.
“Getting some experience first from last year helped out tremendously going into this week and everything goes into full throttle going into — it actually starts today,” Haskins said. “It starts today, so we are going to get ready for them right now.”