PASADENA – If the 105th rendition of the Rose Bowl was indeed the final game of Urban Meyer’s career, his Buckeyes did him proud.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins shook off a slow start to earn Most Valuable Player honors, guiding the Buckeyes to a 28-23 win over Washington by completing 25 of 37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception.
The game was billed as an important test for the 6-3, 225 pound Haskins, as Washington’s secondary boasts two potential first-round picks of its own in cornerback Byron Murphy and safety Taylor Rapp, with seniors Jordan Miller, JoJo McIntosh and even junior nickel back Myles Bryant likely to earn draft consideration, as well.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the showdown never really materialized, as Rapp was unable to play due to a hip pointer suffered against Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
With UW's best all-around player sidelined, Haskins predictably carved up the Huskies’ depleted secondary, attacking the seam Washington’s All-American safety normally patrolled for easy touchdown tosses to wideouts Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon to push the Buckeyes to a commanding 21-3 halftime lead they would never relinquish.
The splashy performance on the big stage is precisely what scouts had hoped for, especially after his potential top competition at quarterback this year -- Duke’s Daniel Jones -- threw for a career-high five touchdowns to push the Blue Devils to an Independence Bowl win over Temple before announcing his plans to head to the NFL.
While Haskins delivered strikes on the early scores, one could argue that they were relatively easy throws that a Heisman contender should make, including a 1-yard play-action pass with just 14 seconds remaining in the half that all but put the game away.
While on the surface, the throws themselves were nothing extraordinary, a closer look shows why scouts will nevertheless be impressed by them.
Haskins certainly deserves credit for influencing the Washington defense on the first score of the game, staring to his left before rifling the touchdown up the middle.
The next time, Haskins influenced the defense by first looking to his right before finding his favorite target, Campbell, wide open on a deep post to his left.
It was a deep corner route in the closing seconds of the first quarter to another Buckeyes’ receiver, Terry McLaurin, however, that really showed the scouts in the stands and watching at home the precision that has earned Haskins the top spot among quarterbacks on NFLDraftScout.com’s board.
Finally, proving that he has the efficient release, timing and accuracy for the quick game, as well, Haskins snuck this 1-yard touchdown in to his fullback following a play-action fake. This throw looks simple in the stat book but it is an important one for his NFL evaluation as Haskins took the ball from under center, something very few college quarterbacks are asked to do much of anymore -- especially young ones like Haskins, just a redshirt sophomore finishing the first (and only?) full-time starting season at Ohio State.
While Haskins’ impressive performance makes his pending NFL decision that much more interesting, Washington’s senior quarterback Jake Browning struggled to find clear passing lanes against Ohio State’s speedy and physical defense until the second half, when he led a furious comeback by completing 35 of 54 passes for 313 yards.
Browning lacks his counterpart’s special traits but the resiliency that helped him win a Pac-12 record 39 games at Washington was on display even in the losing cause. His receivers struggled to create much separation and former All-American left tackle Trey Adams looked like a shadow of his former self, surrendering several pressures and failing to get much push in the running game. As a result, several of Browning’s best plays came after only after he bought time with his feet.
Ohio State safety Brendon White was named the Defensive Player of the Game after recording eight tackles (all solos), including two for loss and also breaking up a pass.
Whereas the Buckeyes leaned on Haskins all season, Washington’s offense is based on its running game, which came into the Rose Bowl averaging a healthy 180 yards per contest.
Washington's senior running back, Myles Gaskin -- a legitimate NFL prospect, himself -- quietly enjoyed a solid day, rushing for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Besides rushing for two touchdowns, Gaskin also wound up throwing Washington's only passing touchdown of the day on a jump-pass to tight end Drew Sample early in the 4th quarter.
The jump-pass brought back memories of Tim Tebow playing for Meyer at Florida -- the last first-round quarterback produced by the retiring coach.
But it lasting impressions made by Haskins that perhaps served as the perfect farewell for Meyer and his latest star quarterback.