Ohio State’s Barrett poses problems
Terps have struggled to stop mobile passers, and Buckeyes QB is among the nation’s best
J.T. Barrett was in Baltimore when he introduced himself to the college football world. Against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in 2014, Barrett became the first freshman to start a season opener at quarterback for Ohio State since 1950.
“I was just a young pup,” Barrett said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
He completed12 of15 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 50 yards on nine carries, and helped Ohio State escape with a closer-than-it-looked 27-14 victory.
His lasting memory isn’t wholly positive, though.
“I remember the pick I had, on a scramble, the safety came down and got it in the corner of the end zone,” Barrett said. “But I think overall, it was a good day.”
Going into Saturday’s game at Maryland (5-4, 2-4), Barrett has since had a lot of other good days for No. 5 Ohio State (8-1, 5-1), including completing18 of 23 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns as well running for 71 yards and a touchdown in a 52-24 win at Maryland in 2014 — the Terps’ first game as part of the Big Ten.
After breaking Drew Brees’ Big Ten record for total touchdowns in a season with 45 as a freshman, Barrett now has a total of 94, just 10 behind the career record the future New Orleans Saints star set while at Purdue from 1998 to 2001.
Barrett has 27 touchdowns this season, including four in last week’s 62-3 blowout of Nebraska.
The 6-foot-2, 222-pound redshirt junior has been through a lot since that opening game against the Midshipmen.
The week after the Navy game, playing Virginia Tech at “The Horseshoe,” Barrett completed just nine of 29 passes and threw three interceptions in a shocking 35-21 loss to the Hokies. Then came 10 straight victories, the last of which was against rival Michigan.
The game against the Wolverines temporarily changed the direction of Barrett’s career. With the Buckeyes clinging to a 28-21 lead after three quarters, Barrett broke his ankle while being tackled on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Barrett’s injury led to the emergence of redshirt freshman Cardale Jones, who led the Buckeyes to two fourth-quarter touchdowns to preserve a 42-28 win. Along with Ohio State redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett passes against Nebraska on Saturday. The redshirt junior threw for four touchdowns in a 62-3 blowout of the Cornhuskers. Ezekiel Elliott, Jones helped Ohio State crush Wisconsin, 59-0, in the Big Ten championship game. Jones then played a big role in the Buckeyes beating Alabama and Oregon en route to a national title.
Jones initially beat out Barrett and Braxton Miller for the starting quarterback job in 2015.
“Going into the season, Cardale was practicing better than me, and the way you practice is how you play,” Barrett said. “So, I wasn’t practicing well, so that was keeping me from the field. At the end of the day, I really want what’s best for the team.”
Barrett regained the No. 1 position seven games in, against Rutgers, when he accounted for five touchdowns. After being suspended for a game after being charged with driving under the influence, Barrett held the job for the remainder of the season.
Earlier this season, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer compared Barrett to one of the best college quarterbacks in recent memory — former Florida star Tim Tebow, whohelped Meyer and Florida win national championships in 2006 and 2008 while also winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007.
“J.T., in his own way, is exactly on the same level as Tim,” Meyer said. “Those are two elite leaders. J.T. certainly is at that level.”
Maryland coach DJ Durkin got his first look at Barrett last year when he was the defensive coordinator at Michigan last season. It was not a pleasant experience for Durkin. Though the Wolverines limited Barrett’s passing to 9-for-15 for 113 yards and one touchdown, Barrett rushed 19 times for 139 yards in a 42-13 romp.
“Obviously you can tell how comfortable he is in their scheme and what they do,” Durkin said. “He’s got command of the offense, command of the team. He’s a great leader. He can beat you throwing it or running it. When you have a quarterback who can do either one, that presents issues for a defense. Let alone an experienced guy like that who’s been through all the battles, all the tests and done a great job, he’s one of the best there is in the country, for sure.”
The Terps have struggled stopping the run — and against mobile quarterbacks in particular — this season. Now they face one who can beat them with his legs and arm.
“You have to make sure when you’re pass rushing, you have to keep him inside the pocket and limit the amount of yards on non-designed QB runs,” defensive tackle Azubuike Ukandu said.
Barrett acknowledged Tuesday that his demotion and subsequent return to the starting lineup made him appreciate his situation more than he did as a freshman.
“The main thing is, just take advantage of the opportunity that we have, the short time we have in college,” Barrett said. “While we’re in it, it seems like it’s going to last forever, but it’s only four or five years of our whole life. It’s like our life is a book, and this is four or five chapters in the book. I try to do the best I could on the field, and off the field as well.”