Blake Cashman has seen the film, and he couldn’t help but come away impressed.
“He’s a stud. There’s nothing bad you can say about him,” the Gophers senior linebacker said.
Cashman’s defensive coordinator agreed.
“He’s one of the top quarterbacks in the country for a reason,” Robb Smith said.
And coach P.J. Fleck channeled a version of a catchphrase popularized by former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick.
“It’s hard to stop him. You do whatever you can to contain him,” Fleck said.
All three were referring to Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who’ll present the Gophers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) with a massive challenge when they meet the third-ranked Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0) on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Haskins, only a sophomore in his first season as a starter, is establishing himself as one of the top Heisman Trophy contenders this side of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
A 6-3, 220-pounder from Potomac, Md., Haskins is the latest in a line of plug-’em-in and watch-’em-dominate quarterbacks for the Buckeyes. The backup to J.T. Barrett last year, Haskins has passed for a nation’s-best 25 touchdowns this season and is averaging 319.8 passing yards per game. He’s hitting on 71.7 percent of his passes, which ranks seventh among FBS teams. Complemented by solid running backs in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, Haskins has the Buckeyes averaging 49 points per game, fifth most nationally.
Haskins’ quick success doesn’t surprise his coach.
“His talent and his quick release and his accuracy has not [surprised me], but that is only a part of playing quarterback,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “He does a lot of work with set protections and directing traffic.”
As a redshirt freshman last year, Haskins showed his potential in Ohio State’s game at archrival Michigan. With the Buckeyes trailing the Wolverines 20-14 midway through the third quarter and Barrett out because of an injury, Haskins came in and immediately led the go-ahead touchdown drive by completing a key third-down pass and rushing 22 yards to the Michigan 1-yard line to set up a TD. He finished 6-for-7 for 94 yards as the Buckeyes won 31-20.
Haskins was at it again Sept. 29 at Penn State. With the Buckeyes down 26-14 with eight minutes to play, he calmly led two touchdown drives for a 27-26 Ohio State win. His 47-yard TD pass to Binjimen Victor cut the Nittany Lions lead to 26-21 with 6:42 left, while his 24-yard scoring strike to K.J. Hill with 2:03 to play stunned the Beaver Stadium-record crowd of 110,889.
On Saturday, a Gophers defense that’s allowed an average of 45 points per game in Big Ten play faces the challenge of trying to slow Haskins. To do that, Smith doesn’t want a repeat of the 42-13 loss at Maryland, in which the Minnesota gave up five TDs that covered an average of 49.2 yards.
“No. 1, we’ve got to keep the ball in front of us,” Smith said. “That’s a big part of what we’ve been focusing on this week. Ohio State’s going to do what Ohio State’s going to do. We’ve got to do what we want to do, and that’s eliminating the big plays. That will slow any offense down, whether it’s Ohio State, Iowa or whoever.”
Fleck wants a better pass rush from his Gophers, who have only two sacks in Big Ten play.
“Apply pressure to him, disrupt his rhythm, which everyone tries to do, and he has thrown for 72 percent,” Fleck said. “… So, it’s an enormous challenge.’’