Joe Burrow was gone, but his presence was still felt at Ohio State months after he had departed for LSU. Dwayne Haskins, the man that beat out Burrow to become the Buckeyes starting quarterback, remembers how he and his teammates reacted when the Jumbotron at AT&T Stadium showed highlights of LSU's victory over Auburn prior to Ohio State's win over TCU early in the 2018 season.
"Literally, everybody stopped what they were doing during warmups to watch Joe play," Haskins recently recalled during an interview with Fox Sports. "It was crazy."
Before putting together the most prolific passing season in Ohio State football history, Haskins, who is currently entering his second season as Washington's starting quarterback, had to beat out Burrow. Despite Burrow's best efforts, Haskins held his teammate off, thus earning the right to succeed J.T. Barrett as OSU's starting quarterback. Burrow, instead of spending another season on the sideline, decided to transfer to LSU, where he would lead the Tigers to a championship in 2019. This past spring, Burrow was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, a year after Haskins was selected with the 15th overall pick.
"I loved Joe, but during that battle, for almost two years, me and Joe couldn't stand each other," said Haskins, who threw for school records 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns in 2018 while leading the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl victory over Washington. "It was just, every day, whether it was winter workouts, or we had to do mat drills, it was gritty. Or, it was [at] practice, and me and him were trying to get in front of each other and get a rep to throw with one of our starting receivers. It was always this heated competition, but we knew we got the best of each other. We always knew that we made each other better."
Haskins, whose strong performance in relief of an injured Barrett near the end of Ohio State's 2017 victory over Michigan jumpstarted his decorated collegiate career, said that he and Burrow's position battle with Barrett the previous season helped both of them understand what it takes to compete with another elite player at their position.
"We always knew that we had to make sure that it was always, whichever guy is in, we had to play at the [level] of an Ohio State starting quarterback," Haskins said. "We competed. He made it hard for me, I made it hard for him. I didn't let him take it away."
Haskins remembers the conversation that took place between the two when Burrow, an Ohio native who grew up less than an hour from Ohio State's campus, informed him of his plans to transfer.
"He said he wanted to go to LSU," Haskins recalled. "I said, 'Do your thing. We believe in you.' We still talk to this day. I'm very proud of what he did last year. It's just great watching people achieve their dreams no matter what route they took."
"I think I speak for Dwayne when [I say that] we were all heartbroken when Joe left," added former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. "We loved Joe. He will always have buckeye blood in him. He's still very close with all his teammates, all his coaches."
While his first season at LSU paled in comparison to Haskins' prolific 2018 campaign, Burrow put together quite possibly the greatest season a college quarterback has ever compiled in 2019. Last fall, Burrow completed 76.3% of his passes for 5,671 yards with 60 touchdowns and just six interceptions while leading the Tigers to a 15-0 season. Burrow's remarkable year resulted in him receiving the Heisman Trophy while becoming the Bengals' new franchise quarterback.
"It's historic," Meyer said of the quarterback battle between Haskins and Burrow. "It turned out to [be] two of the best quarterbacks ever to play college football. Dwayne, he only played for us one year, and it will go down as Ohio State's best season ever by a quarterback. Think about that. It's also one of the best seasons in Big 10 history. Then you had a guy named Joe Burrow in the quarterback room, and [the competition] was as close as you can get.
"I knew we had two great players. Joe really came on. He broke his hand the year before, so he didn't play that whole season. It was a monumental, historic battle between two elite quarterbacks that are now first-round draft picks who will be faces of franchises. We wanted to do it right. We did do it right. It was very close, and Dwayne came out on top."