What a week it has been for Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett.
Just a seven days after an odd incident on the sideline knocked Barrett out of his final game against Michigan, the redshirt senior signal caller was back on the field. Much speculation surrounded Barrett’s status throughout the course of the week, as he had undergone a surgical procedure on last Sunday to repair the damage done to his meniscus.
It wasn’t easy. But Barrett and the Buckeyes survived a 27-21 slugfest against previously undefeated and fourth-ranked Wisconsin, the first Big Ten Championship that Barrett has logged as the starting quarterback at Ohio State.
After sprinting out to an early lead and appearing to be on the fringe of blowing the Badgers out for much of the first half, the game tightened considerably as the Badgers put the screws on the Buckeyes’ deep passing game. The closing gap was aided by a number of miscues from Barrett, who appeared to be struggling with the prospect of moving around as both a passer and a runner.
Multiple deep targets to open receivers running downfield sailed incomplete, as Barrett repeatedly pushed the ball too far for his targets. There were missed reads altogether, where Barrett simply missed open receivers uncovered outside of his initial target.
But on a key drive midway through the fourth quarter, Barrett recaptured the magic that Buckeyes fans have been so accustomed to. As he has many times before, Barrett was able to create a vital play and provide a key spark to help swing the game into Ohio State’s favor.
With 7:44 remaining, Ohio State faced a fourth-and-inches from the Wisconsin 13-yard-line. And coach Urban Meyer put the ball into his team leader’s hands. The Wisconsin front was quick to penetrate at the snap, causing the line of scrimmage to push back into Barrett’s lap as he pushed forward out of the shotgun snap to try to sneak for the needed yardage.
A defender fell back into the quarterback’s legs, stopping him a full yard short of the line to gain. Barrett gave ground, slid to his right, juked back inside of a linebacker and put his head down, falling forward to convert the first down.
Fittingly, it was Barrett who made the back-breaking, momentum-swinging play. It always has been, anytime Ohio State has needed it throughout the midst of this romp through the college football landscape under Urban Meyer.
Wisconsin has felt the wrath of Barrett’s clutch gene before, as Ohio State stormed back late to win 30-23 in overtime against the Badgers last season. Barrett’s fourth-down run against Michigan in 2016 was a game-winner, too.
And who could forget Barrett’s 13-for-13 fourth-quarter performance passing against Penn State this season in a thrilling 39-38 come-from-behind victory with two touchdowns in the final minutes?
The conversion from Barrett allowed the Buckeyes to milk an additional three minutes off the clock before kicking a short field goal that forced the Badgers to need to go the full length of the field to score a touchdown to win the game. A turnover on downs would have further fed the Badgers’ momentum and would have left the deficit at 24-21.
It was a tough, gutty play, one that Buckeyes fans will not forget when thinking about the legacy of Barrett, who now has one (or maybe two?) games remaining in his decorated career.
With the win, Barrett adds a Big Ten Championship to his hardware. The only three-time captain in the history of the Ohio State program, Barrett owns 37 wins as a starting QB, which is also a school record.
Barrett’s accolades extend beyond team wins. He is the only Power Five quarterback since the year 2000 to register 100+ passing touchdowns and 40+ rushing touchdowns in his college career. Not even Meyer’s former standout, Tim Tebow, accomplished the feat.
Regardless of what the College Football Playoff committee hands down to Ohio State for their next game, Barrett’s legacy as an all-time great Ohio State Buckeye is complete.
With more wins and touchdowns than anyone in the history of the program and now some more championship hardware to go with it (Barrett started 12 games for the Buckeyes in 2014 before injury kept him from the final run to the national title), Barrett can now ride off into the sunset with his head held high.
Saturday night wasn’t easy, but it was memorable — just like Ohio State’s 2014 national championship season with (and without Barrett). Just like the Michigan game in 2016. And the Penn State game in October.
Perhaps that fourth-and-inches plunge Saturday night will be Barrett’s lasting legacy: It wasn’t easy, but it was memorable.
And in gritting through a physical game just days after surgery, it was worth it.