Ohio State redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett had a choice to make at the end of last season. While trying to digest a 31-0 whomping at the hands of the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers, Barrett had to think about his college career and a possible future in the NFL.
For him, one factor weighed more heavily in his mind than all others.
“It was really hard for me to leave Ohio State when that was like the worst game of my entire life,” Barrett said. “We didn’t score any points. I’ve never been shut out as a starting quarterback in my life. That was part of it, and also too, with the NFL, the impression of me wasn’t where I wanted it to be.”
So to the like or dislike of Buckeye fans, Barrett is back under center for his final season with OSU, focusing on refining his skillset, which some believe has regressed since his 2014 campaign when he was national freshman of the year.
The majority of the critics of the All-Big Ten quarterback has pointed to his passing game. In 2014, Barrett threw for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns, completing 64.7 of his passes. Now, it’s nearly impossible for someone to replicate that type of production, but to do that in his freshman year, it seemed like the sky was the limit for Barrett. However, since then, Barrett’s downfield inaccuracy has yielded far less impressive results: 2,555 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2016.
Since Barrett graduated in the fall, his entire life has been dedicated to the program.
“I have my degree, so with that, school is taken care of. And now it’s really ball,” Barrett said. “That’s what I have left here at Ohio State. I’m taking a couple classes. They’re online. So right now, my life is football, literally. Now it’s literally just ball.”
Barrett had been framed as one of the maladies that plagued OSU’s passing offense that ranked 81st in the country in 2016. He certainly had his struggles throwing the ball last season, but that was one of the least of the offense’s problems.
Barrett was working with an inexperienced receiving corps that struggled with separation for the defensive backs. When he had to adjust for that aspect with an offensive line that allowed more than two sacks per game, it’s difficult to place much blame on Barrett when crunching the numbers and considering the lack of a downfield passing presence in the play calling.
This year, Barrett will again deal with an inexperienced group of receivers, but he should have some more help with co-offensive coordinators Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day — the latter being Barrett’s position coach.
Day couldn’t have joined the program at a better time for Barrett, who has said he wants to play in the NFL. Day has 15 years coaching experience, including two seasons in the NFL. Wilson has been deemed the founder of a football culture at Indiana — a program that went from one win his first season to two straight bowl appearances — and an offensive mastermind who likes to stretch opposing defenses vertically.
Not only has Wilson worked with his own position group at tight end, but Barrett said Wilson has had an influence on him and the receivers. Wilson told the receivers that they aren’t trying to beat the opposing cornerback necessarily, rather get open for Barrett before the defensive line reaches the backfield.
“(Day and Wilson are) bringing in some good things that they’ve used in the past that we can incorporate into our offense ‘cause our offense, it’s not broken, but there’s definitely some things that we can update and adjust, and that’s what he’s doing,” Barrett said.
Wilson has had his eyes on Barrett since the signal caller’s freshman year. Now, instead of dreading facing Barrett, he becomes the beneficiary of his success. And with a deep quarterback group with redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow, redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins and freshman Tate Martell, Wilson truly has a new perspective on Barrett’s influence on the team.
“Now that I’m here, you see more about him, but what he does, he affects the position, because he has a strong effect on Joe, has a strong effect on the young guys with Dwayne and Tate, has a strong effect on me,” Wilson said. “So he’s got some great leadership skills. Haven’t met his family, but he’s a blessed kid and I’m blessed to have a chance to coach him.”
As for those who don’t think Barrett is OSU’s best option at quarterback, the Texan said he hears the noise, but accepts it as the nature of his position.
“My whole heart is into this. This is all that I do. I’m here to play football,” Barrett said. “I’m not the new and latest thing anymore, I’ve been here for a minute. But also, I’m still trying to enhance and get myself better in order for us to be where we want to be and I think that’s all I can do.”