MADISON, Wis. — He wasn’t playing well.
His teammates around him were playing worse.
But at the end of his team’s toughest test to date, J.T. Barrett did what he does best: he won.
He may not be the Heisman Trophy front-runner at the moment, but when it comes to who the most valuable player in the college football is this season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player who means more to his team than the Ohio State quarterback.
That was evident on Saturday when while facing eighth-ranked Wisconsin in the hostile environment that is Camp Randall Stadium, Barrett managed to lead the Buckeyes to a 30-23 overtime victory, completing 17 of his 29 pass attempts for 226 yards, a touchdown and a red zone interception early in the third quarter.
A week after a sluggish 9-for-21, 93-yard passing performance against Indiana raised questions about Ohio State’s ability through the air, Barrett did little to lessen those doubts early on against the Badgers—but it didn’t matter. Thanks primarily to the play of their quarterback, who rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries against Wisconsin, the second-ranked Buckeyes found a way to win and maintain their status as one of college football’s top teams.
Even when the plays weren’t positive, Barrett’s presence was apparent.
Trailing by 10 points late in the third quarter, Ohio State found itself in the midst of a make-or-break drive that was inching its way into Wisconsin territory. On a first-and-10 from the Badgers’ 36-yard line, Barrett bounced away from linebacker Jack Cichy and heaved the ball downfield in what was ultimately a dropped pass by wideout Terry McLaurin.
No worries. Calm and collected, Barrett stuck with it, finding Noah Brown for a similar strike on a third-and-10 six plays later. Four plays after that, Barrett was in the end zone, cutting the Badgers’ advantage to three points.
It wouldn’t take long for the Buckeyes junior signal-caller to return to the end zone, his eight-yard rush at the start of the fourth quarter tying Braxton Miller’s Ohio State career mark for total touchdowns (88) and giving his team a 20-16 lead in the process. That wouldn’t be enough to put Wisconsin away for good, however, as the Badgers answered back with a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Luckily for the Buckeyes, they still had Barrett on their side.
Engineering a 61-yard drive that resulted in a Tyler Durbin 31-yard game-tying field goal, Barrett put another stamp on Saturday night’s Big Ten battle. While he was unable to get his team into the end zone, the Buckeyes likely wouldn’t have tied the game without the poise of Barrett, whose 43-yard strike to Dontre Wilson put Ohio State in field goal territory.
The Buckeyes and Badgers would wind up in overtime, allowing Barrett to add another chapter to his already lengthy Ohio State legacy.
On the first drive in OT, Barrett broke Miller’s career total touchdown record, finding Brown for a seven-yard go-ahead score. On the ensuing drive, the Buckeyes defense did their job, forcing Wisconsin off the field thanks to Tyquan Lewis’ game-ending fourth-and-goal sack.
Like so many times before with Barrett behind center, Ohio State won.
All because of a quarterback who wasn’t playing all that well in the first place.