The summer offseason is in full swing, and Lettermen Row is trying to survive it with our annual Position Week breakdowns. By the time all nine units at Ohio State have been covered, training camp and media days will nearly have arrived — and the return of football in the Horseshoe will be just around the corner. Let’s kick it all off with the Buckeyes quarterbacks.
COLUMBUS — The role of the Ohio State quarterback has completely shifted in the past 20 years.
As the game of college football has changed, expectations have shifted for the Buckeyes quarterback. For so long, Ohio State’s signal caller was largely just expected to hand off the ball to a talented running back. The position started to take shape in the early 1970s with Rex Kern and Cornelius Greene being used more in the run game. But even by the early 2000s, Craig Krenzel was only used for play-action passes on third down. The quarterback position has taken a 180-degree turn since, especially with the arrival of Urban Meyer and Ryan Day in Columbus in the last 10 years.
The list of top-five quarterbacks to ever play in Columbus was rolled out earlier this week. Now it’s time to pick the five-best quarterback performances, with one caveat — only games over the last 20 years will be considered. The game has changed drastically in the last 20 years, so much that it’s hard to fairly approach the list while looking at the jaw-dropping numbers Ohio State quarterbacks as of late.
Criteria is as follows: The circumstances and weight surrounding the game matters, along with the quarterback’s leadership and final statistics. Plus, it has to be an Ohio State win.
So in honor of quarterbacks week at Lettermen Row, here are the five-best performances from Ohio State passers across the last 20 years:
Justin Fields vs. No. 2 Clemson, 2021
Makes sense to start with the gutsiest performance in recent Ohio State history. Seeking redemption against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Clemson this past season, Justin Fields took an illegal hit to the ribs and hip in the second quarter. Twisting around in pain on the field, he hobbled off the field for just one play. Fields popped out of the medical tent, returning to find Chris Olave breaking in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass. He went on to throw three more touchdowns, including a 56-yard strike to Olave and a 45-yard dart to Jameson Williams which iced the win over the Tigers. The toughness the quarterback showed throughout his career at Ohio State won’t be forgotten, but his performance against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl was nearly mythical. He finished his night in New Orleans completing 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards with another 42 on the ground.
Dwayne Haskins vs. No. 7 Michigan, 2018
Dwayne Haskins owns the top-four spots on Ohio State’s list of individual total-offense outputs, but it’s the fourth entry on the list which will always be remembered. Against the Buckeyes hated rival inside the Horseshoe in 2018, Haskins put together the crowning achievement of his single season starting at Ohio State. Throw by throw, the redshirt sophomore picked apart Don Brown’s famed defense, throwing three of his five touchdown passes in the first half. Completing 19-of-30 passes, he racked up 352 yards of total offense, 318 of which came through the air. Midway through the second quarter he found K.J. Hill inside the redzone to break Drew Brees’ Big Ten passing-touchdown record. He didn’t just throw short touchdown passes, either. Haskins connected with Johnnie Dixon for a 31-yard score. And he found then-sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave for a 24-yard touchdown pass. The Buckeyes thumped Michigan, 62-39, inserting Haskins into the middle of the Heisman Trophy race.
Kenny Guiton at Cal, 2013
Traveling to California with an injured Braxton Miller in the third week of the season had all the makings for an Ohio State upset. Enter Kenny Guiton. The fifth-year senior got his first-career start in Miller’s absence, throwing three of his four touchdowns in the opening six minutes of play. His second throw of the day was a 90-yard strike to Devin Smith, which is still the longest play from scrimmage in school history. Guiton didn’t stop there, though, as he connected with Smith for a 47-yard score on Ohio State’s next drive. He was a force on the ground, racking up 92 yards on 14 rushes as the Buckeyes defeated Cal 54-32. Guiton outdueled Bears quarterback Jared Goff, completing 21-of-32 passes for 276 yards.
Troy Smith vs. No. 2 Michigan, 2006
The lone Heisman Trophy winner of the 2000s for Ohio State arguably put together his best performance in the Game of the Century. Coming off a poor performance against Illinois the week before and struggling with a lingering thumb injury, Troy Smith showed his grit against No. 2 Michigan. The Buckeyes held a 14-point lead in the second quarter, but Michigan cut the lead to four in the third quarter. Smith fumbled the ball with over 10 minutes remaining in the game, but the Wolverines didn’t convert on the ensuing possession. On the next drive, Smith sealed his Heisman Trophy campaign with an 11-play, 83-yard drive resulting in a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie. He finished the game throwing for 316 yards and four touchdowns, delivering Ohio State its first outright Big Ten title since 1984 and sending the Buckeyes to the BCS National Championship Game.
J.T. Barrett vs. No. 2 Penn State, 2017
The defining moment of J.T. Barrett’s Ohio State career. After being doubted time and time again, the senior seemed to put all the noise on mute for good. Facing a 15-point deficit and with his back to the wall, Barrett put on a show in the fourth quarter. The two-time captain was 13-for-13 with three touchdowns in the final frame, completing clutch pass after clutch pass. His final touchdown of the night came with less than a minute to play, a 16-yard strike over the middle to Marcus Baugh in the back of the end zone. Ohio State won 39-38 because of his performance, knocking off the second-ranked Nittany Lions. Barrett closed out the game with 16-straight completions, still the most consecutive completions in Ohio State history.