For an afternoon, Ohio State's new-look offense made it easy to forget about Urban Meyer
You knew there was going to be some extra juice at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, and not just because it was the first game of 2018. It obviously wasn’t because of the presence of Oregon State, either.
Urban Meyer’s absence fueled said juice early on.
One didn’t have to be in Columbus to see that the atmosphere without the suspended Ohio State coach was different. A month of controversy and negative headlines sparked what was inevitably going to be a raucous home crowd.
Excitement would’ve turned into angst if there was any sign of disconnect in the first game without Meyer since that disastrous 2011 season.
The new-look Ohio State offense made sure that didn’t happen.
It didn’t matter that the Buckeyes were without Meyer, or J.T. Barrett, who felt like he arrived in Columbus in the Jim Tressel era. What did matter was that interim coach Ryan Day had the Buckeye offense clicking on all cylinders. In his head coaching debut, he did exactly what he set out to do. That is, put Dwayne Haskins in spots to succeed and make sure nobody utters the word “hangover” when discussing Ohio State’s Week 1 showing by day’s end.
Simply beating Oregon State wasn’t going to accomplish that. That’s not enough for a preseason national championship contender as a nearly 40-point favorite.
“Enough” was the Ohio State offense playing like it did on Saturday.
With all the juice.
Obviously that’s an easy conclusion to jump to after a team puts up 77 points. Before you tell me about how “it was only Oregon State,” I’ll save you the trouble. It was only Oregon State, the team that went 1-11 last year and failed to beat a single FBS squad. Of course Haskins and the Buckeye offense was going to look good.
But the passing game efficiency was noteworthy on many levels.
It was easy to forget that was Haskins’ first career start. If he had any butterflies or too much, um, let’s stick with “juice,” it would’ve shown. He would’ve overthrown receivers left and right and made OSU a one-dimensional offense. That didn’t happen. At all.
A first-half line of 14-of-18 for 164 yards and 3 touchdown passes confirmed the excitement about the beginning of the Haskins era. He made throws that Barrett wouldn’t have even attempted. Instead of tucking it and running, Haskins calmly went through his progressions and would often find a streaking Terry McLaurin or K.J. Hill. Haskins was on-target, and he was efficient.
As strange as it was for OSU to not have Meyer, it was probably even stranger to go an entire half without a run from the starting quarterback (Haskins finished with 2 rushes for 24 yards). Tate Martell did enter the game in the second quarter and at least show the quarterback running game. That, however, was after four Ohio State touchdown drives to start the game with Haskins.
To be clear, Haskins’ precision in the passing game wasn’t the only thing that fueled OSU. Mike Weber, who probably felt like the forgotten man in the Buckeye backfield after hearing preseason Heisman Trophy buzz about J.K. Dobbins, ripped off 3 first-half scores because why not?
It was all @OhioStateFB in the first half.@mikeweberjr did his part (95 yards, 3 TD), helping guide OSU to a 42-14 halftime lead. pic.twitter.com/0SHk6EQWaA
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 1, 2018
Regardless of the fact that it came against a woeful Oregon State defense, Saturday felt like an offseason assumption was all but confirmed.
Ohio State is going to be a tougher team to defend than it was the last 3 years. Period.
Haskins’ ability to stretch the field is a game-changer. Let me rephrase that. Haskins’ ability to stretch the field vertically* is a game-changer. In the same way that everyone spent all offseason talking about Alabama’s upside with a passer like Tua Tagovailoa instead of Jalen Hurts, the same could be true with Haskins instead of Barrett.
Would a Barrett-led OSU offense have rolled past Oregon State? Definitely. Would the takeaway be that Barrett’s arm has potential to be a big-time weapon? Definitely not.
And again, that’s not a knock on Barrett. Meyer repeatedly said that with the game on the line on fourth down, he’d want the ball in Barrett’s hands and no one else.
Because of Meyer’s suspension, we’ll wait a few more weeks to hear Meyer talk about a full game’s worth of work from Haskins. But given what we’ve seen and heard about the new Ohio State starter since he arrived on campus, we could easily hear Meyer touting his late-game confidence in Haskins soon.
Meyer once said that he felt Haskins “was the best quarterback prospect he’d ever seen.” That was nearly three years ago.
Not to get too far ahead of myself, but has Haskins provided any evidence to suggest that Meyer was wrong? I’d argue he hasn’t. That includes what we saw from him last year in relief against a Michigan defense that ranked third nationally in yards allowed. Oregon State won’t finish anywhere near that. In fact, the Beavers could wind up being the worst defense that the Buckeye offense will face in 2018.
But on a day when Ohio State was eager to turn the page, Haskins and Co. gave Ohio State a chance to do that. Nick Bosa and the Buckeye defense did its part, though it had far more hiccups than the offense did (stopping the run might be a good thing to do with that daunting schedule).
A long rain delay couldn’t wash away what was already an ideal start to the Haskins era. Well, his 75-yard touchdown pass to McLaurin on the first play of the second half took care of that.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that Ohio State could lose the most productive B1G player ever, and already, it’s fair to wonder if the Buckeyes are getting an upgrade at quarterback.
Time will tell if that proves to be true. We might get an answer to that in a couple weeks against TCU. That, of course, will be the Buckeyes’ last Meyer-less game.
You know, just in case you forgot about that on Saturday.