Tuesday notebook: Haskins might be toughest QB test yet
Ohio State’s offense has been putting up numbers at a record pace this season, and quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been the one who’s made it click.
The redshirt sophomore has already thrown for more than 2,800 yards and 30 touchdowns to just five interceptions through eight games as a starter, including completing 71 percent of his throws.
Heading into Saturday’s showdown in Columbus, Haskins has topped 400 yards passing in OSU’s past three games, and he also became the first quarterback in Big Ten history to open a season with five or more touchdown passes on three different occasions.
Even when Haskins has been relatively off – like he was in the Buckeyes’ loss at Purdue two weeks ago – he’s been breaking records. Haskins set school records for pass attempts (73) and yards (470) against the Boilermakers.
All of that is why Nebraska’s defensive coaching staff agrees that Haskins will be the best quarterback the Blackshirts will face all season.
“He’s right up there at the top,” NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “We’ve played a couple good ones. Obviously, there’s some guys who can really throw the football. He can throw it; he can run it pretty adequately when he has to.
“He can make all the throws, and I think he’s very well-coached on where to go with the football when he can tell what coverage it is. So I think he’s right at the top of guys that we’ve played.”
Haskins gives Ohio State’s offense a much different look than it had with former starter J.T. Barrett at the helm. Unlike the more dual-threat Barrett, Haskins is a much more traditional pro-style quarterback who does nearly all of his damage with his arm.
Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said he'd followed OSU head coach Urban Meyer throughout his career, and, in his opinion, Haskins might be the most pro-style QB that Meyer has had since Alex Smith back at Utah.
"It’s not the true QB run-oriented game that J.T. Barrett was and (Tim) Tebow was and those type of guys," Ruud said. "I think (Haskins) brings a little bit more of the pro-style element. You could argue other than Alex Smith, Haskins is the best thrower that Urban Meyer has ever had since he’s been coaching. As far as just being able to throw the ball and distribute to receivers, he’s pretty dang good.”
Ohio State’s offensive line was one of the few question marks entering the season, but Haskins’ ability to get the ball out to his playmakers so quickly has left him essentially untouched by opposing pass rushes.
In fact, Haskins has only been sacked 12 times on more than 350 drop backs this season.
“He’s really good with where he needs to go with the football, so he gets rid of that thing really quick,” Chinander said. “So whether the protection breaks down or not, that ball is usually out of his hand pretty quickly.”
- Robin Washut
Stille accepts his Blackshirt this week
After not accepting his Blackshirt a week ago when awarded one after the Minnesota game, sophomore defensive end Ben Stille was wearing one for practice when seen on Tuesday.
After having a sack for the second week in a row, Stille felt like the time was right to wear a Blackshirt.
“I just asked (Chinander) if he thought I still earned it, and we went from there,” Stille said. “(I felt like I showed) effort on every play. I thought the snaps that I was in there, as a d-line as a whole we played well.”
When Chinander looked at the decision for Stille to get his Blackshirt this week, he said it was a pretty easy one.
“Coach Frost gives the Players of the Game at every position, and he was the defensive line guy for us,” Chinander said of Stille. “He had a couple tackles, a TFL on a sack. So he practiced well and he played well.”
- Sean Callahan
Dewitt encouraged by special teams progress
It goes without saying that Nebraska had its fair share of struggles in all three phases of the game to start the season and special teams play was an area that needed extra help.
The Huskers have made several personnel changes on most all of the special teams units and have spent extra time in practice focusing on the littlest of details. All of that attention to detail has been paying off according to special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt.
“It was really good,” Dewitt said about NU’s special teams performance last week. “For the most part it was pretty much the same guys. There was one or two tweaks in there for some guys, but nothing massive like it has been over the last couple of weeks trying to find the right guys to work together to execute some things.
“Obviously, we had the couple really long punts which I thought that was really good to have that happen. Some situational things arose that we were prepared for which I was excited to see those guys to be prepared for some of those situations and be able to execute on those deals.”
The highlight for most came on JD Spielman’s 77-yard punt return for a touchdown. While Dewitt was excited to see that happen he was even more excited to see some guys avoid penalties that they were committing earlier in the year.
“What was really cool, obviously it was great to see JD do some great things with the ball in his hands, but the cooler part was to watch some of the technique work that we’ve been working on over the last few weeks come to fruition on game day," Dewitt said. "That was as equally as exciting as to watch JD do some things with the ball in his hands. Just watching guys work their leverage down the field, understand different fits as the guy tries to retrace to make a tackle and get their hands in the back spot. Those were some of the things that led to the score.
“You cannot believe how many times we’ve harped on that. You cannot understand how much that’s been emphasized. Tony Butler, towards the end (of the return), had a chance to really go and clean somebody’s clock, but there was potential for it to be a block in the back, so he pulled up.
"I think Reid Karel, he was covering down the field, he had an opportunity and he threw his hands up in the air and kind of got away from it and let the guy run into him instead of him trying to block the guy. So those are two instances on that play where I was excited to see it’s starting to sink in a little bit I hope.”
- Nate Clouse
Stoltenberg takes on new role after return from injury
Last week’s win over Bethune-Cookman was a long time coming for Mick Stoltenberg.
After missing the previous four and half games due to a knee injury he suffered against Michigan, the senior captain made his return to the lineup on Saturday.
While he didn’t start the game, Stoltenberg played 17 snaps in the victory and finished with a tackle and a quarterback hurry.
His numbers were minimal, but just being back on the field with his teammates was a reward Stoltenberg relished to the fullest.
“It was a long four weeks of rehab and everything,” Stoltenberg said. “It was kind of nice to be able to get back out there and kind of test the waters and see how it feels and live action. I got reps in practice throughout the week, but it felt good to get out there on the field.”
The most unique aspect of Stoltenberg’s return was that all 17 of his snaps came at defensive end. The starting nose guard for the first three games of the year, Stoltenberg moved outside to allow Carlos and Khalil Davis, Peyton Newell, Damion Daniels, and even Vaha Vainuku to handle to work in the middle.
Defensive line coach Mike Dawson said they moved Stoltenberg partly because junior end DaiShon Neal had been out with an injury. Stoltenberg has essentially taken Neal’s snaps in the defensive end rotation the past two weeks.
Stoltenberg said prior to Saturday he hadn’t played a game snap at end since his freshman year in 2015 when he was at the three-technique in NU’s previous 4-3 scheme.
But he worked at defensive end all of last week in practice, and the Gretna, Neb., native is now listed top backup behind Stille heading into the Huskers’ trip to Ohio State.
“I took reps of that during practice throughout the week,” Stoltenberg said. “I think Coach Dawson wanted to give me just a different look at a different position going forward just because of depth.
“I’ll probably be doing double duty going forward, playing a little bit of both. Whatever I can do to help the team, I’m more than willing.
- Robin Washut
***With as many weapons as Ohio State has at the skill positions, Chinander said open-field tackling and getting as many hats to the football as possible would be imperative on Saturday. He said OSU’s backs and receivers are going to make the first guy miss a lot, so they’ll need to a wave of defenders following up on every play.
***Asked what stood out about Purdue’s defensive game plan in its win over Ohio State two weeks ago, Chinander said it was mostly the effort their group played with from start to finish. He said the Buckeyes were able to move the ball a bit, but when it came time to make a stop the Boilermakers answered the call time and time again.
***Chinander said Nebraska's past defensive struggles against Ohio State wouldn't mean much of anything regarding this year's team and how it prepares for its latest meeting with the Buckeyes.
"I don't think it changes it from any other opponent,” Chinander said. “We're trying to stop what they're doing. We're trying to hold their points down. They're a really good football team. Obviously, everybody knows our offense goes fast, so we're going to be out there a lot. We have to do a great job to get off the field as much as we can, try and get a couple of turnovers, get our guys the football back, just try to limit what they do. They have a lot of formations, a lot of different plays.
"We just have to be ready for everything, but it's got to be important to keep those points down as low as we can. Even if something, a play happens, a couple of first downs go, you got to keep going and keep going to try and get those turnovers, try and get off the field on third and fourth down.”