COLUMBUS, Ohio – Before we dive too deep into this story, let’s get one thing out of the way: The season that J.T. Barrett had in 2014, as a redshirt freshman, was – statistically speaking – extraordinary.
Those numbers, which earned first team All-Big Ten honors that season and a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race, were perhaps even more extraordinary when you consider the circumstances that thrust him into the spotlight at Ohio State at least a year (and maybe two) earlier than expected.
There is no doubt that the incredible – and surprising – success of Barrett in 2014 has played a significant role in the perception that he has, in some ways, “regressed” since that record-setting season.
Other factors certainly played a part: a broken ankle suffered against Michigan in November 2014; a coaching change that saw Tom Herman leave Columbus and Tim Beck arrive; a media circus around a national title favorite; an unmitigated disaster with a quarterback controversy turned rotation; and an out-of-character legal issue that cost him more playing time and embarrassed him nationally. It’s impossible to pinpoint one issue that stands out the most when you consider the entirety of 2015’s insanity.
What it comes down to, though, is this: if you’re judging the Wichita Falls, Texas, native’s value to Ohio State based solely on numbers, then you’ve got logical reasons to believe he’s not the quarterback he used to be.
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If you ask Barrett himself, he’ll disagree. In fact, he’ll contend that not only has he not regressed since his monster 2014 season, he’s improved. He’ll tell you that because some of the things that matter to people outside of the Ohio State locker room don’t matter to him, his teammates and coaches.
“That’s crazy, and it doesn’t really matter, I guess, but since Coach Beck has been here, I think I’ve gotten better,” Barrett said. “Whether fundamentally, or just mentally and seeing the game, he’s been helping me and our quarterback unit. I think it’s kind of outrageous, but people don’t get a chance to see everything that really goes into things during the week, they just see the game and numbers. Those things don’t go always go as planned.”
The reality is that those things are still going pretty well. The Buckeyes are the Big Ten leader in passing efficiency, and while it’s not a perfect way to see what a quarterback is doing, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said on Monday – after Barrett’s gutsy performance at Wisconsin – that it’s the best way to judge how well someone is playing the position. Barrett’s numbers, though, shouldn’t be overlooked, even if a good percentage of them came in that surprising 2014 season.
“That’s the one stat we use. There’s no one out there more than myself, or certainly J.T. and the receivers, that want to perform a little bit better. I would not consider us elite performers right now. But once again, efficiency is what we look at, and that takes everything into consideration,” Meyer said. “We do not look at yards and number of throws. We look at efficiency, and the one bad play (at Wisconsin) was the interception going in. That’s what we look at. If we manage that one right, then you probably score on that play.
“It’s not like he’s been a four-year starter here. I hope he is. (We are) just very impressed with him. That’s why, when I started hearing ‘your passing game,’ (I say) ‘No, our passing game? We’re OK.’ We’re going to get keep getting better at it. He’s a very good passer. When you’re the No. 1 quarterback in the history of Ohio State University, you’re doing OK.”
Numbers matter, and it’s silly to pretend they don’t, but even by that metric things haven’t taken the downturn some of the naysayers suggest they have. Barrett leads the Big Ten in efficiency, but he also leads the league in touchdown passes despite having the second-fewest attempts (Michigan State’s Tyler O’Connor and Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner have both thrown 149 passes this season) of any Big Ten quarterback with more than 15 attempts per game.
The numbers aren’t bad, even if it’s not not always as pretty as preferred. If you extrapolate his current stats out to a 12-game season like he had in 2014 you’ll see that things aren’t that far off.
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So they’re good, but this isn’t 2014, Barrett isn’t a surprise or a redshirt freshman and the expectations on Barrett are higher than ever before. The pressure weighs heavier than before but the Buckeyes quarterback is doing more than ever, according to one of his offensive lineman.
“J.T. is very special,” Billy Price told Landof10.com during a recent media availability. “I see him hold his composure a lot better. His composure level, the way he sees things sometimes, the offensive line doesn’t see things the way he does. He gets us in better situations than he used to and he’s better as a leader and a quarterback in every single way. He executes at such a high level.”
Price, who has has started alongside Barrett during each of his 23 career starts, thinks that people aren’t seeing the whole picture.
“I read all kinds of stuff about J.T. and how he’s playing,” Price added. “It’s absolutely crazy. To sit and criticize and critique someone when you’ve got no idea what’s really going on, that’s absolutely crazy.”
Barrett, too, knows that people are talking, he knows some believe he hasn’t improved because the numbers don’t always bear that out, but he wants fans to know that his expectations are the same as theirs: to be perfect.
“I have more knowledge of what we’re doing on offense, the why something is happening, and I see the game better,” Barrett said. “Defenses are going to try and mess with you at certain times, but it’s about learning how to handle it.
“I think there’s always an expectation that whenever the ball leaves my hand, that it has to be complete. We hold those same expectations, so that’s not a crazy thing to think about. But it’s about understanding that we’re not going to complete every pass. Do I strive to complete every pass? Without a doubt, but there are so many variables in the passing game, whether it be coverage, timing, wrong routes, a bad pass – there are so many things that make a successful pass play – we do our best to figure that out every play.”