In No. 15 TCU, Ohio State faces more than a general step up in competition.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes will have to deal with something they have not seen much lately: A true dual-threat quarterback.
Shawn Robinson, a 6-foot-2, 228-pound sophomore from DeSoto, Texas, is the first Horned Frog to win his first three games as a starter since Jeff Ballard in 2005 and ’06.
He completed 70.8 percent of his passes in a season-opening victory over Southern then went 16 for 29 for 154 yards with an interception and a touchdown last week as TCU beat SMU in the rain.
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Robinson has thrown for 336 yards and four touchdowns this season and also leads his team in rushing with 112 yards and three touchdowns on 10 attempts.
Knowing he is dangerous with his arm and his legs — rather than saving one or the other as a change of pace — makes game-planning different for Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and his staff.
“When the quarterback carries the ball and can do it well, the defensive math changes,” Schiano said. “Really, playing good defense is getting people to the point of attack and then making the tackle, so when the quarterback runs it, you need to get another guy to the point of attack.”
If Ohio State decides to commit an extra player to play in the box to help contain Robinson, the Buckeyes will likely have to play man coverage without help on the outside, raising the chances TCU can hit a big play down the field on early downs.
On passing downs, the quarterback’s running ability makes man-to-man (and subsequently some blitz schemes) less appealing for a defensive coordinator because that means fewer eyes on the quarterback if he decides to take off and run.
On film, Schiano has observed a quarterback who is willing to scramble, but not one who is anxious to abandon the pocket at the first sign of trouble.
“He’s a very good runner, but it’s not where he just tucks it to run right away,” Schiano said. “We’re going to have to hold coverage when he does start to move out of the pocket and be ready once he crosses the line of scrimmage to come up and try to bring him down, which is easier said than done. He’s a 230-pound man who runs very well.”
Ohio State had mixed results against dual-threat quarterbacks last season.
In Big Ten play, they shut down Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke but gave up three touchdowns to Trace McSorley of Penn State (including two passing).
Earlier in the season, they became a pelt on Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield’s wall when the Oklahoma quarterback competed 27 of 35 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns in a big win for the Sooners at Ohio Stadium.
(After averaging more than 10 carries per game in his first season in Norman, Mayfield ran less in 2016 and’17, but the run threat was still there for defenses to consider.)
Mayfield and McSorley both had a harder time against the Buckeyes in ’16, though McSorley threw a touchdown pass and ran for another as the Nittany Lions scored a big upset in Happy Valley.
That season ended with a 31-0 loss to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal. While the offense’s no-show garnered most of the headlines, Deshaun Watson gained over 300 total yards and scored three touchdowns.
How will things play out this time around?
The Ohio State defense, which is young but seemingly gets more athletic every season, says it will be ready.
“We’ve just got to contain (Robinson) for sure,” defensive end Nick Bosa said. “Running quarterbacks are tough. You can’t just rush freely and do the same things we’ve been doing. We kind of have to stay in our lanes and be more disciplined.”