LINCOLN, Neb. – Combined, the total football experience among the players and coaches inside Memorial Stadium is pretty vast.
It spans decades and conferences, and it makes you wonder: How does Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett stack up among the best that Huskers players and coaches have ever faced?
This season, Barrett has 17 passing touchdowns and only four interceptions. He’s second in the conference in total yards, and holds the Big Ten record for touchdowns in a season with 45. He also holds Ohio State records in total touchdowns scored, touchdown passes, total yards in a season, career completion percentage, touchdown passes in a game, consecutive passes completed and most wins as a first-year starting quarterback. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State history, and Nebraska will have to pull from a vat of experience to stop him.
So of all the quarterbacks Nebraska players and coaches have played, to whom does he compare? Try a Marcus Mariota base with a hint of former Houston quarterback Case Keenen, a slice of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, and a splash of Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker said Mariota, the former Oregon quarterback, is the best college quarterback he has coached against, without a doubt. USC legends Matt Leinart and Carton Palmer and two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, who played at California, are also in the mix, Banker said.
Barrett compares to Mariota in a lot of ways, Banker said. They run similar offenses, sure, but there’s also something to be said about their abilities to be creative.
“There was a play on film and there was a whole big pile-up, and J.T. Barrett kind of squirms around and runs out and one of our guys goes ‘Wow, that was like Houdini,’” Banker said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, we used to see that out of Marcus Mariota all the time.’”
Linebackers coach Trent Bray said the best he’s coached against was Luck. Just a true, great quarterback, he said, who could hurt you with his brain.
A little like Barrett. Except Barrett can hurt you with his legs, too.
“He’s one of those quarterbacks where if he has a good day, they move the ball; if he’s not having a good day, they’re not as effective,” Bray said of Barrett. “So he’s one of those game-changing kind of guys that kind of the offense feeds off of and runs through. So being able to contain him or control him is big when you talk about slowing him down.”
Defensive backs coach Brian Stewart spent two years as the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, so the best quarterback he’s ever seen is Tom Brady. A 2006 loss to the New England Patriots, when Brady led the Pats from behind in the fourth quarter, still bugs Stewart.
But a few years later, when Stewart was the defensive coordinator at Houston, he saw the best college quarterback he’s seen to date: Case Keenum.
With Keenum, there wasn’t anything Stewart could throw at him in practice that Keenum couldn’t figure out how to beat, which is how Barrett is, too. But there’s also a twist with Barrett. He can also run out of plays to save a broken play.
“I think he has a common confidence (as Keenum) the way he plays that’s kind of exciting,” Stewart said. “He’s a bigger guy so he can take some hits, he’s not a streamline guy. He does a great job of commanding the offense.”
Both senior linebacker Josh Banderas and junior corner Chris Jones said the best quarterback they’ve faced was former Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. He threw it with some velocity and didn’t make lots of mistakes, Jones explained. Which is similar to Barrett, who only has four interceptions this season.
But more than anyone, both Jones and Banderas said Barrett reminds them of their teammate, Tommy Armstrong.
“He reminds me of Tommy a lot,” Jones said. “He could be on the opposite hash and still make a strong throw all the way across the field. Just have to be on your p’s and q’s.”
The experience of playing that many great quarterbacks, and Barrett being a mix, means Nebraska knows how to pick and choose what to do to slow down Barrett. But it also means they’ll have to be ready for everything.
Like against Mariota, the Huskers will have to play on their toes, Banker said.
“It’s a big challenge when you play quarterbacks like that.”