COLUMBUS, Ohio — J.T. Barrett didn’t get a full senior day. But a senior quarter was enough for a fitting sendoff for the most decorated quarterback in Ohio State history.
At least until he needed to come back for an unexpected encore that only reinforced just how valuable he’s been and still is for the Buckeyes.
There was a pregame salute from Urban Meyer, which is just about the highest praise he offers during festivities ahead of the last home kickoff of a player’s career. The school’s only three-time captain was, of course, the last of the Buckeyes introduced and received a standing ovation at the Horseshoe. He got his emotions in check during the national anthem, standing side by side with Meyer at the 50-yard line.
Then Barrett went about his business against a completely overmatched opponent, no small feat when there were so many potential distractions for Ohio State and the temptation to look ahead to The Game. And most impressive of all? Barrett built an insurmountable lead in the second quarter before some dreadful weather arrived to make sure he could get his curtain call and a proper farewell before the fans headed for the exits with a few minutes left in the halftime.
The only rain on that senior day parade was the downpour that helped produce a defensive touchdown for the Illini in the third quarter, forcing Barrett to put his helmet back on and go toss for another score.
The discussion of Barrett’s legacy is nothing new, and obviously it’s still being written with at least three games left in his final campaign with Ohio State. There wasn’t anything he could really do to change that conversation against hapless Illinois, though it’s still worth tipping a hat to how effortless he made it look to score his pair of early touchdowns and the throws he ripped through some brutal wind while completing 11 of 19 attempts for 141 yards.
Those numbers are simply drops in the bucket for the most prolific TD producer in Big Ten history, though he added a fresh record by passing Braxton Miller as Ohio State’s all-time leader in rushing yardage for quarterbacks. But even if the Illini were always likely to struggle against Ohio State’s comical edge in talent, Saturday still stands as a reminder of how important Barrett has been in helping Meyer build this kind of powerhouse program.
While Barrett has gone through some highs and lows, even during his senior season, it’s reasonably safe to assume the Buckeyes wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much over the last four years if he had never stepped foot in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The work he did before the magical 2014 title run often is overlooked because he wasn’t part of the postseason explosion, and thanks to the way the 2016 campaign ended, what he did to even get those young Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff is similarly not given enough credit.
What happens over the next two weeks is going to carry a lot of historical weight for Barrett, there’s not much question about that. He has a chance to post a clean sweep against rival Michigan in The Game, an opportunity to win a Big Ten title in a few weeks against Wisconsin and a path to get the Buckeyes another crack at a national crown.
But all that was on the back burner on Saturday, which actually worked out for the best.
All the attention could be focused on paying tribute to one of the greatest players to ever put on a scarlet-and-gray uniform. And after a little more than a quarter of work, Barrett deserved a chance to relax and enjoy his last afternoon at the Horseshoe.
It turns out, the Buckeyes weren’t quite ready to let go just yet. But if anybody has ever earned an encore on senior day at Ohio State, it’s J.T. Barrett.