COLUMBUS, Ohio — After a big road win in one of the biggest games to date during the college football season, Ohio State returns to Ohio Stadium on Saturday to continue Big Ten play against Indiana.
The third-ranked Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) begin a stretch in which they’ll be heavily favored against their opponents until a November matchup with Michigan State.
Ohio State kept its record perfect after rallying from a 12-point deficit at Penn State in the fourth quarter to eke out a 27-26 victory over the Nittany Lions.
Sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins displayed poise and an impressive right arm once again, completing 22 of 39 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns with one interception after a slow start. Two of his touchdown throws were 47 yards to wide receivers Binjimen Victor and 24 yards to K.J. Hill in the final 6:42.
The game brought into clear light the difference between this year’s Ohio State team with Haskins behind center and the offense for most of the past four years with record-setting, dual-threat J.T. Barrett at quarterback.
Haskins lacks the ability to make plays with his feet, and so when Ohio State needs to convert on third or fourth down, coach Urban Meyer can’t call a run-pass option as he’s used to doing. Instead, he has to trust one of running backs J.K. Dobbins or Mike Weber, or Haskins’ accuracy and arm strength.
“It’s comfort zone like that short yardage that I’ve been used to,” Meyer said. “People say, are you going to run the quarterback again, but usually we see the official do this (signal first down).
“Dwayne Haskins is playing his you know what off. Keep doing it. One thing, I’m also comfortable seeing the screens come out of his hands so fast. Seeing him with pinpoint accuracy. There’s certain times of the game I’m used to having something in my pocket that it’s not there. We had two situations Saturday that we haven’t figured that out. One we didn’t make it, one we (barely) made it.”
Haskins might not be able to run a quarterback keeper effectively, but that’s the only complaint about his play. He’s orchestrating a high-efficiency offense that’s fourth nationally in total yards per game (557.0) and pass efficiency, sixth in scoring (49 points per game) and eighth in passing (346.6 yards per game).
“We’re throwing for 340 a game, something like that, and we’re winning games,” Meyer said. “We’re taking care of the football, and throwing the ball and utilizing some very good players. And he’s a very good player.”
And yet Meyer said the Buckeyes are far from reaching their peak. The defense hasn’t played at quite the level of the offense but is making stops at crunch time. Defensive end Chase Young has picked up the slack left by the injury absence of All-American defensive end Nick Bosa.
“There is a tremendous ceiling on this, and we haven’t got close to it,” Meyer said.
Meyer will be looking for progress against Indiana (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday (4 p.m., FOX), a team that Ohio State has dominated for decades. The Hoosiers beat Rutgers 24-17 on the road last week.
“They played very well,” Meyer said. “Their scheme is outstanding, I think they’re very well coached. And they have answers for everything.”
Indiana redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey, an Ohio native, leads the Big Ten in completion percentage (71.0) while passing for 1,039 yards and eight touchdowns. Seven players have double-digit receptions.
Freshman running back Stevie Scott is the Big Ten’s fourth leading rusher with 464 yards on 68 carries.
Indiana coach Tom Allen realizes the Hoosiers’ defense will face by far its most difficult assignment this week trying to stop Haskins and company.
“If he has time, he’s deadly,” Allen said. “He’s really, really accurate and got a strong arm. It’s a very different challenge that he creates than since I’ve been here. … and he’s got a lot of weapons around him.
“He’s proven he’s a big-time player and is a guy we have to have some answers for, but it will be a tremendous challenge to keep him from being as effective as he’s been, but that’s what we’ve got to do.”