The self-proclaimed leader of #TheMovement will finally be playing his first game at Maryland Stadium.
The only problem, at least for those who were once overjoyed by his decision 3½ years ago to become a Terp, is that quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. will arrive for Saturday’s game with the rest of his Ohio State teammates.
Some of the edge might be off the homecoming, considering that it’s been so long since Haskins flipped his commitment after once saying, “It’s just like a marriage; you don’t get married to break up.”
Yet Haskins is certain to be reminded by the Maryland fans who show up for the team’s senior day about what happened after then-coach Randy Edsall was fired during the 2015 season and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley didn’t get the job.
And given the season the redshirt sophomore is having for the No. 10 Buckeyes, the Terps and their fans will likely be reminded of what might have been had the former Bullis School star followed through with his commitment to play at Maryland.
For his part, Haskins told reporters he isn’t thinking much about why he wound up in Columbus rather than College Park, trying to continue the tradition of playing for championships under Urban Meyer rather than helping rebuild under DJ Durkin.
“Right now I’m working on getting 20 tickets for the game,” Haskins said in an interview with Ohio State beat reporters Tuesday after practice. “Otherwise I haven’t put too much thought into going back home and playing.”
Asked how hard it was at the time to flip his commitment, Haskins said: “It was very hard just because of the relationships I built there at the university with the coaches, teachers, players and commits.
“But to be here and coming here to Ohio State has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. To be here and see how great we’re doing now and to be a part of it and actually playing instead of watching like the last couple years, it’s been really cool. I don’t regret the decision to come.”
For its part, the Maryland defense will be trying to slow down Haskins in his pursuit of several Ohio State passing records and help the Terps pull off their biggest upset to date under interim coach Matt Canada to become bowl-eligible.
For Adam McLean, it’s a little more personal. The redshirt junior defensive tackle has long claimed that he was the one who came up with the idea of #TheMovement, the social media campaign to keep the local talent at home for the Terps.
“I came first, he was under me, I got him to come here,” McLean said with a smile after practice Tuesday. “But that’s my guy. I’m excited for him and happy for everything that he’s done at Ohio State. It should be a pretty good matchup.”
McLean said that he and Haskins have remained close friends and are still neighbors in Gaithersburg, communicating by text message and on social media. McLean is looking forward to another chance to play against Haskins.
The two were on the field briefly last season in Columbus, when Haskins was doing mop-up duty for starter J.T. Barrett in a 62-14 win for the Buckeyes and McLean was finally getting a chance to play for the Terps.
Asked what it will be like to face Haskins, McLean chuckled.
“It’ll be all right,” said McLean, who is coming off a strong performance against Indiana, including tipping a pass that was intercepted. “He’s a competitor, I’m a competitor. In the heat of the moment we’re both there to do our job and take care of business. But I think it’ll be fun.”
Said Haskins: “Even last year when we played them at home I had a few players talk smack to me just because of the relationship we had. It’ll be pretty cool to go against all the kids I knew from back home and went to camps together, and all the neighboring high schools and just how close we were at one point in time and how our paths have changed. It’ll be cool to play against them.”
Haskins is having a monster season for the Buckeyes. He is 51 yards from breaking Joe Germaine’s 20-year-old record of 3,300 passing yards and needs three touchdowns to surpass Barrett’s mark of 35 touchdowns, set last season.
“Being so close to all of these records is a blessing from God,” Haskins said. “The fact that I’m able to go and compete for these records is just a testament to the offense and the coaches and how great they are at game planning for us.”
But some of the luster has started to wear off.
Once touted as an early-season Heisman Trophy candidate, perhaps even a front-runner, Haskins has struggled of late, to the point where some Ohio State fans want to see his backup, redshirt freshman Tate Martell, get more snaps in the red zone.
The frustration began during a 49-20 loss at Purdue on Oct. 20 and continued when Haskins threw for season-lows of 252 yards and 227 yards the past two weeks in wins over Nebraska and Michigan State.
As the only team to have beaten Ohio State to date, the Boilermakers certainly provided even more of a blueprint on how to rattle Haskins than other teams that did it occasionally earlier this season.
“What we felt going into the game is that we had to create some pressure on him,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said during the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday. “You have to find ways to make him throw a couple [of interceptions]. You have to blitz, you max-blitz him.
“You have to bring it from the back side, the front side, up the middle. All those things have to happen, and when those things happen, you have to be able to cover some. To me if you let him stand back there and pick you apart, he will do that against every team he faces.”
Watching tape from that game, McLean took notice.
“Dwayne is definitely the kind of guy who likes to sit in the pocket and throw the ball,” McLean said. “He can use his legs, but he will throw it first. You definitely have to press the pocket, make him feel a little uncomfortable, make him throw those iffy passes and give our DBs a chance to make a play on the ball.”
Meyer said in the Big Ten teleconference that Haskins plays with a focus and a fearlessness needed for his position.
“Within two seconds you have to make sure the other 10 guys are lined up correctly, you have to understand everyone’s protection and everyone’s route and, by the way, you have 6-foot-4, 260-pound people trying to tear you apart and it all happens in 1.8 to 2.5 seconds,” Meyer said. “The thing that’s impressed me the most is that he’s been hit a few times and has delivered the ball, which is a sign of a very good quarterback.”
Meyer is not concerned with the way Haskins will respond under the spotlight of this much-anticipated homecoming, the coach’s confidence derived from the way he saw Haskins respond in last year’s Michigan game coming in for an injured Barrett and throughout this season.
Asked whether the amount of time since Haskins left Maryland should help reduce the nervousness, Meyer said: “I don’t think it’s nervousness. This is his 10th or 11th start, so I think it’s just pride and he loves that area. He knows a lot of those players, has a great respect for the quality team we’re getting ready to play.”
Given all that has transpired since the day he declared his love for being a Terp, #TheMovement is a memory. And not a pleasant one for Maryland. How much more unpleasant it becomes Saturday has a lot to do with the player who either started it or didn’t.