The body of work is straight from Michaelangelo, pure art cast in glistening marble: Four games, 14 passing touchdowns, just two interceptions, 888 passing yards, three rushing scores.
In any other year — any other year that doesn’t involve Louisville’s Lamar Jackson running like a wild colt over the ACC — Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is sitting in the Heisman Trophy’s catbird seat.
After Saturday’s showing in a 58-0 rout of Rutgers, if there’s any sense of justice, he’s at least No. 2. And closing fast.
“I thought he played great,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer told the Big Ten Network after the Buckeyes rolled to their largest margin of victory in a regular-season league game since 1981. “But I expect him to play great.”
The 6-foot-2 junior wasn’t just great. He was ruthless. Ruthless and efficient: 21 completions on 29 attempts (72.4 percent, his second straight game of completing 70 percent or more of his throws), 238 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, five rushes, 46 rushing yards.
On the Buckeyes’ first drive, Barrett was picked off at the Rutgers 36. He completed 15 of his next 21 throws for 170 yards and four touchdowns. Against a Rutgers defense that came in to the weekend allowing touchdowns on only 20.69 percent of opposition drives, the Texan marched Ohio State into the end zone on four out of the final five Buckeyes possessions of the first half.
And the last two drives were the keepers. With 2:27 left in the second quarter, the Buckeyes capped a seven-play, 70-yard march on Barrett’s 16-yard touchdown strike to tight end Marcus Baugh, pushing the lead to 22-0. The receiver did most of the heavy lifting at the end, shaking off one Scarlet Knight defender beyond the 5-yard line, then barreling over two more tacklers at the 2 before going completely horizontal with a stretch at the 1-yard line, breaking the plane with the ball before his knees touched the turf.
J.T. Barrett stands alone. pic.twitter.com/wkCgNkIPJL
— Steven Candelaria (@StevoCandelaria) October 1, 2016
And yet the next possession — nine plays, 53 yards in 1:18 to close out the first half — might have been even more impressive. Charged with running the 2-minute drill, Barrett opened with two incompletions, then turned a third-and-25 at his own 32 into a 24-yard toss to Curtis Samuel and a fourth-and-1 at the Rutgers 44 into a 4-yard run and a first down to stop the clock.
The Buckeyes (4-0) got from the Knights’ 40 to the end zone in five plays and just 29 seconds, culminating the drive on a Barrett rollout to the right and a 5-yard toss to Samuel for the score.
“I thought that was damn near perfection,” Meyer told BTN. “I mean, he did very well managing the clock, getting the ball down, getting guys set. So I expect that out of him, but I’m glad we got that work.”
The Knights (2-3) aren’t Michigan — let alone Michigan State — but Barrett continually seemed one chess move ahead of whatever kitchen sink the Rutgers defense threw at him.
Pressure up the middle? Barrett slid away from it to find a clear passing lane. Pressure from behind? Barrett stepped up. Heat from the left? A slide to the right. Clutter on the right? A slide to the left.
On second-and-5 with 33 seconds to go in the aforementioned 2-minute drill, Barrett felt the pocket shrink behind him, scanned the progressions, tucked, saw nothing but real estate in front of him, and scooted into the clear for a 17-yard gain.
You can’t teach presence. You can’t teach strong, either. On the drive that ended with the Buckeyes’ first score, Barrett rolled left, sliding out of the grip of a Knights defender who’d managed to get a grip on his right leg. The Ohio State signal-caller shook off the tackler, remained upright, eyes forward, and fired an 18-yard strike to Dontre Wilson, capping a 6-play, 61-yard drive.
“Some are faster, some are bigger, but they have that ‘it.’ They’re game managers,” Meyer told BTN. “The quarterback’s a unique position where, how do you measure them? Do they make those around them better? And he does that.”
Barrett is on a pace to throw for 42 touchdowns after 12 games, which would break the Buckeyes’ single-season mark of 34 scores set by … J.T. Barrett, in 2014.
The road to New York City on Dec. 10 is long, twisted, and full of potholes, and Jackson has opened up at least a furlong lead on the rest of the pack. But Barrett is gaining ground by the week, and No. 16 is a horse that doesn’t look as if it’s going to break stride anytime soon.