In the week leading up to the 2017 Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin, Dwayne Haskins prepared to start his first game as Ohio State’s quarterback.
After leading the Buckeyes to a second-half comeback in their 31-20 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor last year, Haskins spent the week leading up to last year’s conference title game practicing with Ohio State’s first-team offense.
J.T. Barrett had been forced to leave the game at Michigan in the third quarter due to a knee injury, and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery the following day. With just six days to recover for the Big Ten Championship Game, it was uncertain whether the Buckeyes’ fifth-year senior quarterback would be able to play against Wisconsin.
Barrett ended up being able to start and play every snap of the Buckeyes’ 27-21 win over Wisconsin, relegating Haskins back to the bench.
“Last year was crazy. I still kind of don’t know what happened,” Haskins recalled Tuesday. “All week of practice, I was with the ones and I thought I was going to start. And he played and he did great, so I wasn’t shocked by that. But I was preparing to be the starter all week, and on Saturday before the game, he’s running out full speed.”
Haskins acknowledged that he wanted to be on the field against the Badgers, but understood why he had to wait his turn.
“As a competitor, you want to play,” Haskins said. “But you have to know what’s best for the team. So J.T. was our leader at the time, and he had done a great job here at the university.”
Now, however, Haskins doesn’t have to wait his turn anymore. After starting all 12 of Ohio State’s regular-season games and leading the Buckeyes to their second straight Big Ten East title – finishing the job with another spectacular performance against Michigan –Haskins will get his opportunity to start a Big Ten Championship Game when the Buckeyes play Northwestern on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
With last year’s week of preparation and now a full regular season of starts under his belt, Haskins is feeling confident in his ability to lead the Buckeyes to their second straight conference title.
“I’m looking forward to leaving my mark here on this team and in this championship game,” Haskins said.
Haskins is expecting a challenge from Northwestern’s defense, which ranks 29th in points allowed per game (21.7) and 48th in total yards allowed per game (372.7), but he is confident that the work he is putting into his preparation will pay off on Saturday.
“They look like a very stout, strong defense. They play very good football. A lot of zone coverage, and they don’t make too many mistakes,” Haskins said. “So just being able to know what they’re doing defensively and making sure that I’m on all of my P’s and Q’s going into this week will mean the world to the offense, and knowing that I’ll be able to help receivers and offensive linemen out in protections and in coverage.”
With his 396-yard, six-touchdown passing performance against Michigan – in which he broke the Big Ten’s single-season records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in the process – Haskins has put himself in position to likely be a Heisman Trophy finalist and earn an invitation to next week’s ceremony in New York.
He says he’s keeping his focus this week, however, on the team’s goals.
“Winning awards is awesome, but to be able to go out here and play in my first year the way that I’ve played, I’m just really blessed and thankful for my teammates and my coaches for putting me in the opportunity to go out there and ball the way that I did,” Haskins said. “And even though I won these awards and getting a lot of accolades every week, the biggest thing is about winning the game on Saturday, and I’ll feel more accomplished by beating Northwestern than I would about winning anything else.”
“I’m looking forward to leaving my mark here on this team and in this championship game.” – Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins
Haskins’ excellent first season as a starter has also thrust him into the conversation to potentially be a first-round pick if he enters the 2019 NFL draft. Again, though, he says his focus is on trying to win a Big Ten championship and finishing his Ohio State season strong, and that he will make his decision on whether to stay for another year or go to the NFL at the appropriate time.
“I know there’s conversations about it, but my biggest focus is trying to go win the game on Saturday,” Haskins said. “So when it’s time to think about that, I’ll talk to my family about it. But it’s my first year (starting at Ohio State), and it’s just a whirlwind.
“Just really blessed to be in the conversation to be an NFL draft pick,” Haskins continued. “It’s been a dream of mine. But it was my dream to play here first.”