Redshirt-freshmen who enter spring camp as the third-string quarterback aren’t necessarily expected to lead their team to a double-overtime victory on the road.
Especially not in the midst of their worst statistical game as a collegiate player, and certainly not while playing on a sprained MCL.
But that’s what J.T. Barrett did for Ohio State during its 31-24 win against Penn State on Saturday.
His coach, Urban Meyer, said Barrett’s overtime heroics — which included 32 rushing yards and both OSU touchdowns — are something he’ll likely remember forever.
“I’ll probably never forget that look when I saw our offense taking the field against the white out of the student section, down by seven, against the defense that really kind of shut us down the second half … and take us in for a score,” Meyer said Monday.
Just moments later, Meyer reiterated that — despite putting the offense on his back in the extra periods — Barrett wasn’t at his best against the Nittany Lions.
“J.T. actually had just an OK game as far as some of the reads and some of the decisions he had to make,” he said.
Barrett started the game off strong running the ball, but never got on a roll through the air and slowed down on the ground after the first 15 minutes. He had five carries for 45 yards in the first quarter, but finished the half with just one more yard on the ground and just 52 through the air.
At that time, the Buckeyes still held a 17-0 lead, but a pair of second-half interceptions from Barrett — including one that Penn State returned for a touchdown — helped to allow the Nittany Lions back into the game.
But even after putting up numbers nowhere near what Buckeye fans have become accustomed to in recent weeks, OSU running backs coach Stan Drayton said he learned everything he needed to know when he looked at Barrett before the team took the field in overtime.
“There’s nothing like looking in a player’s eyes to find comfort as a football coach,” Drayton said Monday. “And I just so happened to see J.T. Barrett’s eyes in that moment. And I’ll tell you what, I got all the confidence that I needed that he was gonna at least at that moment give everything that he had to try to put us in a situation to win that ball game.”
Drayton added that the look from Barrett makes him look forward to what he and the rest of the Buckeyes might be able to do down the road.
“When you see that coming from some young football players right now, you can’t help but get really excited and anxious to see what the future holds for this football team,” he said.
For all the confidence Drayton said he got from Barrett’s demeanor, he didn’t mention the injury the quarterback had sustained during the game’s first half.
If he’d been asked before the game ended, redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein said he wouldn’t have mentioned the injury either, but that’s because he didn’t know it existed.
“After the game, I had no idea he hurt his knee,” Elflein said Monday.
He added that the injury made Barrett’s performance all the more notable.
“He was fighting through it the whole game, and that says a lot about him,” Elflein said. “What type of guy he is, and that was awesome.”
Because of the injury, Meyer said he expects Barrett to be limited in practice this week, but made it clear that there would be no surgery and said the Wichita Falls, Texas, native will play in OSU’s next game.
But without normal practice reps heading into a game, Barrett might need to find other ways to prepare. Drayton said he has no doubt the signal caller will do that just fine.
“He’s a technician, he’s serious about his business and he’ll study every single thing he needs to be prepared on Saturday,” Drayton said.
That Saturday game is set to pit the Buckeyes against Illinois at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
And before that kickoff — if all goes as it has this season — Elflein said Barrett will be the one getting the team ready before taking the field. He said the quarterback gives a pregame speech before every game, and used just one word to describe what those speeches are like.
“Incredible,” Elflein said. “You don’t hear anything like that from anybody else, you can tell that it’s coming form deep within and he really means it.”