The aircraft engine crowd noise at Ohio Stadium did not faze J.T. Barrett. How could it? When you’re used to tuning out the clamor of criticism that comes at you every day, the cacophony of 109,000 screaming fans sounds like a pin drop.
All Barrett heard was the steady ba-bum coming from a whopper of a heart. Even Barrett’s critics — and they have been legion — confess that the Ohio State fifth-year quarterback does not lack drive and passion.
But an Ohio State quarterback needs more than “want-to” to play the position effectively. He needs the ability to make every throw and the presence to remain steady in the pocket and hit the deep ball and slant pattern bullet with precision. Pretty much every time.
No QB is capable of such perfection, of course. But that has never stopped a sizable portion of Buckeye Nation from expecting it. So when Barrett has not delivered on cue? Let’s just say it gets loud around town.
So here was Barrett, staring down the barrel of another bad Ohio State loss to another highly ranked team that the Buckeyes supposedly cannot beat. Never mind that Barrett’s W-L numbers are not bad: 9-3 vs. ranked teams; 7-3 vs. top-10 teams; and 2-1 vs. top-five opponents. The quarterback typically gets the most blame without getting an equal but opposite amount of acclaim when his team wins.
This looked like a blame game for No. 16. The game was on the line, which meant the season was on the line, which meant Barrett’s legacy was on the line. Was he feeling it? Yawn. No biggie for the quarterback from the little town in Texas.
Ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum.
There are two sides to Barrett. The one is rarely seen outside the locker room, where it manifests as an animated QB exhorting teammates with yells and hell-yeahs. The other is the cool customer who runs the offense with a quiet confidence.
“Sometimes I have to come across aggressive and intense and get our guys motivated,” Barrett said. “And there are other times where I need to use poise and let everybody know that everything will be OK. We have to stick together and it’s going to work out.”
It worked out. Barrett turned in one of the best quarterback performances in Ohio State history on Saturday in the Buckeyes’ 39-38 win against No. 2 Penn State, completing his final 16 passes over the third and fourth quarters and directing the winning drive that ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marcus Baugh with 1:48 to play.
Add #SaveTheBuckeyes to #SaveTheCrew. And in this case much of the saving belongs to Barrett, who finished 33 of 39 for 328 yards and four touchdowns, passing Drew Brees (90) to become the Big Ten’s all-time leader with 94 touchdown passes.
Simply put, Barrett was the best player on the field as Ohio State twice rallied from 18-point deficits to keep alive its national-title hopes. Better than Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, if not by a lot, and definitely better than Nittany Lions tailback Saquon Barkley, who entered the game as the leader in the Heisman Trophy clubhouse.
Now? Barrett deserves as much consideration for the award as anyone.
“I think that H-word is appropriate after today’s game,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of Barrett.
And that’s not all Meyer said.
“A quick comment about our quarterback. I see everyone’s throwing these sheets at me with records,” Meyer said. “You guys can figure out all the records. I’ll just tell you, man-to-man, this is one man talking about another man. I don’t know if I’ve ever had more respect for a human being and as a person.”
And this: “I’ve never had a kid play perfect, but damn he was close tonight.”
Yes he was. Wasn’t it wonderful? Not only for the Buckeyes — maybe not even mostly for the Buckeyes — but for Barrett, who may be deaf to outside criticism but is not dumb. He knows what he has and has not accomplished, and chief among the latter is failing to win a championship as the OSU starting quarterback. He’s not there yet, but getting closer.
But even as failure tried to force its way into his hearing, Barrett heard only his heart — “I love the guys in the locker room and the brotherhood we have,” he said — and the voice of his coach echoing in his head.
“Coach Meyer always says, ‘Go win the game.’ That’s always going through my mind,” Barrett said.
He did, and it was something to see.
“This is one of the best (games) I’ve ever seen a quarterback play,” Meyer said, before becoming sentimental.
“I think I’ve had him for five years. I’ve seen it ever since he’s been playing for us. I heard about this J.T. Barrett guy, and he came on as a redshirt freshman. And he wasn’t tall enough, wasn’t this or that. But he’s tough as a lion and he has an incredible skill to lead others.”
And to tune out everything else.
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