PARADISE, Ariz.– Ohio State redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett had a signature season in 2014, stepping into the spotlight as a freshman two years ago after a training camp injury to starter Braxton Miller and putting the Buckeyes in position to win the Big Ten championship.
But, he never got a chance to finish the job after suffering a fractured ankle against Michigan that ended his season. Cardale Jones, a third-string wonder, stepped in and got all the glory after the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin, 59-0, in the Big Ten championship game, stunned Alabama, 42-35, in the national semifinals at the Sugar Bowl, then defeated Oregon, 42-10, to win the first College Football playoff in Arlington, Texas. Barrett got a ring, but never got a chance to experience playing in the biggest game of the season.
“It was out of my control,” Barrett recalled. “I was playing in a football game, trying to help us win, and I broke my leg. It wasn’t like I was riding a skateboard and fell off the curve. It wasn’t like I was bitter.
Barrett was trapped under the weight of a 250-pound Michigan defensive end. He had to be helped off the field and wound up being a student assistant, a glorified quarterback coach riding around with his leg propped up on a scooter that allowed him to be mobile.
“It was a love-hate relationship,” Barrett said of the device. “I loved it because I wasn’t crutching. I hated it because some people would say, ‘Man, J.T., you must be having a lot of fun.’ I was like, ‘No, really I can’t walk right now. You can go walk to wherever you want to go.’ ”
The 6-2, 222-pound Barrett, who came to Columbus from Wichita Falls, Tex., is healthy again. He was the Big Ten’s best quarterback this season, leading the 11-1 Buckeyes with 3,275 yards total offense, completing 214 of 346 passes for 2,428 yards and 24 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He also rushed for 847 yards and nine TDs and was the team’s inspirational leader in the locker room.
Barrett has been given a rare second chance to write his own chapter in the storied history of Ohio State football when the third seeded Buckeyes play second seeded ACC champion Clemson in the national semi-finals Saturday night in nearby Glendale.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to fight for it once again,” he said.
The Buckeyes took some heat for getting into the four team playoff despite not winning the Big Ten title.”I still feel like we’re a top 4 team,” Barrett said. “To play the schedule we played, to beat the teams we beat– Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan. I think we belong.”
The 2014 Buckeyes were loaded. Barrett will have to play a bigger role on a young team with 16 first year starters. “The big thing is to be true to who we are, to make sure we lean on our fundamentals,” Barrett said. “We had a week off. We don’t want to let that get away from us, whether it’s defense or tackling, pass and catch down field.”
Barrett will be trying to make a dent on an experienced defense that likes to constantly switch defensive schemes to keep their opponents off balance.
Barrett continues a long line of dual-threat quarterbacks for Meyer, who since the turn of the century is one of those mainly responsible for revolutionizing the position. Going back to Bowling Green in 2001, Meyer’s seven starting quarterbacks have accounted for 482 touchdowns. Only 2007 man Trophy winner Tim Tebow of Florida Barrett have over 100 total touchdowns in their career playing for Meyer.
Not everyone thinks Barrett is the second coming. Earlier this week, Clemson’s outspoken safety Jadar Johnson created instant bulletin board material for the Buckeyes when he questioned Barrett’s arm strength and accuracy.
“I’m not saying he sucks,” Johnson said. “He’s not a bad player, but I don’t think he stands out of one of the best quarterbacks we’ve faced this season. I feel like if we can limit him on the ground, with his running, we’ll be pretty good. I don’t think he’s a very accurate passer. I’m not taking anything away from him. I think he’s a real good player but I feel like his strong point is just on his legs.”
It didn’t take long for word to filter back to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who had a private conversation with Johnson.
“Not real smart,” Swinney admitted. “He better play well.”
Barrett brushed off Johnson’s scouting report in his first news conference since the safety’s comments. “There wasn’t a lot to it, I feel like,” Barrett said. “I got tagged on it in Instagram so I looked at it. Everyone has the right to their own opinion, which I’m not mad at. I’m comfortable in my skills and what I’m able to do. If he feels like I’m not the best quarterback they went against, I mean, that’s just how he feels. I don’t have a feeling toward that one way or the other. I mean, I’m OK, really. I feel like it wasn’t a lot to talk about. I saw what he said.
“It’s not like we’re going to hang it up on the game-day bulletin board. We’re OK. We’re good. You know what I’m saying? We’re good. Somebody in the past said something about our defense, and we saw how that went. That’s how we feel about that. We’re OK. If you want to talk, that’s OK. We still have to go play the game.”
Barrett was referring to what happened to Oklahoma in September when the Sooners called Ohio State’s defense “basic.” Ohio State blew away Oklahoma, 45-24, in its own stadium.
Clemson knows firsthand just how much added incentive can come from inflammatory comments that make their way into opposing locker rooms.
When Clemson’s All American quarterback Deshaun Watson faced similar criticisms from a Notre Dame defensive back KeiVarae Russell (who said Watson wasn’t a top 5 quarterback) last season, those comments were posted around Clemson’s practice facility and a video of them being made was played before a team meeting. Watson passed for two touchdowns and ran for a third as the Tigers defeated the Irish, 24-22, in the rain soaked Clemson Stadium.
“We definitely have used that stuff for motivation, and I’m pretty sure they’re using my statement for motivation,” Johnson said. “But on the flip side, I know they’re getting motivation from that, so it’s putting more pressure on me to go have a good game.
“I like to talk trash, but I really wasn’t talking any trash about J.T. — especially a guy I don’t even know like that. I don’t know him from a can of paint. I just know that as a quarterback he’s a winner, he’s 26-3 [as a starter] right now, and obviously he’s not trash. But I play good under pressure, and I feel like I’m the best under pressure. It’s going to make me go out there and play an even better game.”