“(Quarterbacks coach Tom) Herman told me, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Hey, don’t try to be something you’re not. Just go out there and play the game, play with confidence,’ and I feel like I did today,” Barrett said.
“That definitely helped settle me down. Coming in after Braxton, people expect you to do some crazy stuff, but I’m not Braxton. I’m J.T., so I just go out there and played my game, and that definitely helped me.”
It was clear by the end of Ohio State’s 34-17 victory against Navy in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium that Barrett was not, in fact, Braxton Miller. An offense that had eight new starters compared to last season’s opener moved in fits and starts at times, and there were no sensational jukes or stunning rushing plays like fans became used to when Miller was taking the snap.
But there were some Barrett trademarks already on display. The man known as “The Distributor” completed 80 percent of his passes, going 12 of 15 for 226 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He spread the ball around to six different receivers, with no Buckeye finishing with more than three catches.
And he showed the leadership and poise that everyone in the program has said is uncommon for a true freshman. For example, when Barrett threw his interception – one play after a beautiful 30-yard pass into a hole in the zone to Dontre Wilson – with OSU at first-and-goal in the second quarter, he didn’t let the freshman mistake bother him at all.
“He was good no matter what happened,” Wilson said. “Even after the pick he was smiling and telling us everything was going to be OK.”
Barrett confirmed as much.
“After I threw the interception, I was like, J.T., you knew you shouldn’t have thrown it. Now you have to make up for it,” he said.
Make up for it he did. Barrett was a perfect 4 for 4 for 130 yards and the two scores after his interception.
“He was good,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “I never thought he was rattled. His demeanor was great and he’s a great kid who will keep getting better and better.”
Barrett also made perhaps the play of the game with 4:10 left in the third quarter. Ohio State trailed 14-13 at the time when Barrett stepped back on first down after a play fake and found Devin Smith alone behind the defense. Barrett’s throw didn’t hit him in stride but it didn’t matter, as Smith hauled in the bomb, broke free of a tackle and went the distance for an 80-yard touchdown that gave OSU the lead for good.
“I was just trying not to miss him,” Barrett said. “He was so open. They bit so hard on the play-action, I was trying not to miss him. He made a great catch then ran away from him.”
The action was Barrett’s first since October 2012, when he suffered a torn ACL while playing prep ball at Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas, prompting Barrett to admit he was nervous and “antsy” before the game.
Barrett said he and the offense felt better as the game went on, especially as Barrett got into the groove of simply doing his job. He had success the few times the Buckeyes went down the field, and the coaching staff also called a number of high-percentage passes like screens and jet sweeps. And when he had to run, he did, toting the ball nine times and rushing for 50 yards.
“Just getting us in the right play, not trying to do too much,” he said of his approach. “I wasn’t trying to make a throw or anything like that, I was trying to settle down and be smart with the football.”
He did just that, especially as the Buckeyes started to wear down the Midshipmen on the way to four second-half TDs. The day wasn’t perfect and the margin for error on the Ohio State offense looked slimmer than it has been the past few years, but it was a good start and Barrett now has a 1-0 record next to his name.
In game one, Barrett wasn’t Miller. But he also doesn’t have to be for the time being.
“The positives were he managed the game, he was an unbelievable presence on the side line, he was accurate when we asked him to throw the ball down the field,” Herman said. “I come away with it very pleased, understanding though that we’re not going to go where we want to go if we don’t get a few of the ‘downs’ fixed.”