COLUMBUS, Ohio — J.T. Barrett showed up to the Horseshoe in the afternoon, and the Ohio State quarterback was greeted with a playful slap in the face from his coach. Urban Meyer was hugging him just outside the tunnel to the locker room by the end of the evening.
Just before halftime, the home fans were restless after a drive ended just short of the end zone, and there might have even been a smattering of boos mixed in the crowd. By late in the fourth quarter, however, he was receiving a standing ovation.
Barrett wasn’t perfect on every throw. His decision-making hardly could have been any better.
Last week, there were tears threatening to break loose at his familiar podium in Ohio State’s postgame media room. On Saturday night after leading the Buckeyes to a 38-7 win against Army, he was able to crack some jokes and thank his teammates for putting him in position to shine.
He’s the most prolific producer of touchdowns in the history of the Big Ten. He’s still hearing questions about whether he should even be the starter at Ohio State.
Ups and downs. Highs and lows. Criticism or blame. The unflappable Barrett simply keeps on plugging along for Ohio State while the circus swirls around him.
“The heart of a lion,” Meyer said. “It’s a heart [so] big. And toughness; he’s one of the toughest players I’ve ever been around.
“That’s pretty good characteristics to have with a guy touching the ball on every snap.”
Just one game ago, the volume of the conversation about whether he should continue to touch it was cranked up during another flat performance in another high-profile matchup.
No matter that Barrett was on the brink of the record he broke with a sharp 9-yard throw to Austin Mack — touchdown No. 107 — to ice the victory over the Black Knights. Regardless of the fact that Ohio State’s backup option had never taken a snap at the college level before, giving him a résumé that’s almost comically overmatched next to Barrett’s. And despite the recognition as a three-time captain, Barrett’s command of the locker room has no parallel in Ohio State history.
Meyer stood by him after the Oklahoma loss and didn’t bat an eye about it. And while beating Army and setting another record won’t completely, undoubtedly end the discussion about Barrett’s ability to lead the Buckeyes back from a loss and take them to the College Football Playoff, it served as a reminder that he hasn’t somehow just forgotten how to do the thing he had done 104 times coming into the weekend.
“I think people have a right to their opinion; that’s something that is a part of our great country — freedom of speech,” Barrett said. “But they really don’t know all the inner workings that are involved with every single game plan, every single game; really, you could go down to every single play. They were kind of speaking things, I don’t know, based off what they see or hear, which is fine. But understand, they don’t know all the inner workings that we have going on.
“I was just focused on our team, understanding it’s a process, going to be a long journey getting back to where we want to be, and we’re going to take it one step at a time.”
Barrett still is going to be the guy leading the way for the Buckeyes, make no mistake about that.
There was no hesitation by Ohio State after the loss. There certainly won’t be any now for Ohio State, even if a win over Army doesn’t move the needle or silence all his skeptics outside of the program.
The next big test is still more than a month away for Barrett. That Penn State game on Oct. 28, his final showdown with Michigan, a potential run to a Big Ten championship and whatever happens in the postseason, all of it will shape his legacy. Even in the meantime, he’s going to stay under the microscope until then as part of another possible superlative: the most discussed quarterback in Ohio State history.
But Saturday night, the ink dried on a different label. And Barrett earned it.
“All these broken records that I have, I never really thought about it, honestly,” Barrett said. “One thing I go back to, coming from Wichita Falls [in Texas], little city on the map, I just wanted to come out here, win a lot of football games, be around a great group of people doing it.
“This was something that came along the way, so it’s a tremendous honor, but I didn’t picture it when I committed to Ohio State.”
Just imagine what the program might have looked like if he hadn’t.
By the time Barrett is finally done, the Buckeyes will obviously have been glad to have him. For maybe the only time in the Barrett discussion, that’s the only topic that has no counterargument.