After one of his best statistical games as a Buckeye – four more touchdowns, two records set, a career high in rushing yards produced and another game of nearly 400 yards of offense piled up – one would expect Ohio State players and coaches to be raving about quarterback J.T. Barrett’s performance in Saturday’s 31-24 win at Minnesota.
Instead, it seemed like it was pick on J.T. day in Minneapolis, mostly about his speed – or supposed lack thereof – after he broke off an 86-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, the longest in OSU history for a quarterback and fourth longest overall.
“Think about that for a minute. J.T. Barrett took one 86 yards,” head coach Urban Meyer said with a wry smile. “Pretty good for a guy that runs a 5.5 40.”
Even quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Tom Herman tweaked Barrett for the same topic before admitting it was an explosive play.
“I like to make fun of him about a lot of things,” Herman said. “He's really good-natured, he's a kid that doesn't take anything personal, he's got very thick skin when it comes to being coached really hard and when it's time to be serious and being coached really hard. And then the light-hearted ribbing, takes it in stride and then every now and then he dishes one back that's pretty good, too.”
Barrett wasn’t totally impressed with his performance, either, even after skippering No. 8 Ohio State to its eighth straight win thanks to three touchdown passes and the aforementioned record-setting run.
“I think it was kind of rough at first in the first half, but definitely got better in the second half,” he said. “The offense calmed down and we made adjustments. The coaching staff did a good job of making adjustments at halftime. Definitely rough at first being that we were moving the ball and making plays but then just not finishing it off.”
In total, the damage done was impressive. Barrett moved to 38 touchdowns responsible for on the season, breaking the record of 36 set one year ago by Braxton Miller (who did it despite missing nearly three whole games with injury). He ran for a career-high 189 yards, topping his old mark by 82 yards, and finished with 389 total yards on the day, the sixth time he’s topped 300 on the season.
So when all the teasing is done, the Buckeyes were pretty impressed with the effort put together by Barrett, especially with the Texas getting his first real taste of cold-weather football in the snowy Twin Cities.
“I think you can tell the kind of trust we have in him,” Meyer said. “In that kind of environment you really have to hand-pick who is going to touch the ball. We have a lot of confidence in (Ezekiel Elliott) and we have a lot of confidence in J.T. In those kind of conditions, the ball is kind of slick, it’s like a rock when it gets that cold. We have a lot of confidence in him.
“Like I said, early in the season, we had no idea who he was. I had no idea this is what J.T. Barrett is. I have a very clear picture of who he is now.”
Who is Barrett? He’s a quarterback cool enough to shake off his mistakes and his successes but hot enough to keep alive his record-setting paces (he’s one TD away from Troy Smith’s school record of 30 in one season now). He’s someone the Buckeyes trust in the comforts of Ohio Stadium and the unfamiliar surroundings of TCF Bank Stadium.
And he’s not yet perfect. His interception late in the first quarter stemmed the tide on what looked like another OSU scoring drive and let the Golden Gophers back in the game, a throw that Meyer said was wrong in both idea and execution. But Barrett has enough capital built up within the coaching staff that there was no doubt he’d be counted on to keep making plays.
“It’s amazing how he’s grown and how mature he is for his age and experience,” co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “His level of play is high and so we have a lot of confidence in him. We’re not afraid to do things that maybe might say would be a little bit risky with him because he is such a smart player and takes care of the football well. Every once in a while, he’s human and he’ll make mistakes, but he’s playing at a tremendous level for us.”
His touchdown run was also the kind of play that voters might remember come Heisman time. Barrett faked a jet sweep to the right then went through a huge hole to the left between guard Billy Price and center Jacoby Boren. From there, he was in open space, outrunning linebacker Damien Wilson and safety Damarius Travis while picking up a block on cornerback Eric Murray from Mike Thomas.
The only player left who had a shot at him was cornerback Derrick Wells, who came from the far side of the field, but Barrett simply just had too much in the tank to be brought down, running through the diving tackle attempt of Murray near the goal line.
“I’m looking back and I’m like, ‘Oh snap, I better take it the other way, otherwise he’s gonna get me.’ That was about it, though. I feel like I have a good ability to run but I definitely don’t have crazy, breakaway speed like Braxton.
“I think they did (underrate my speed) a little bit, you know what I’m saying? All season, workouts, I’m normally in front, but that’s more conditioning and things like that. But when they talk about me running a 4.8, I’m like, man, don’t play me like that.”
But the most important stat of the day? 9-1, and that’s the Buckeyes record as they move on to try to clinch a Big Ten East Division championship next week vs. Indiana.
“Win games, bottom line,” Barrett said. “My mind-set is all the time is to win games and all the individual accolades come second to me so it wasn’t something I was focused on.”