For the first time since the Virginia Tech game, the Ohio State offense was struggling.
After outscoring the Penn State Nittany Lions 17-0 in the first half, the Buckeye offense seemed to stall as its redshirt-freshman quarterback began to look like the player he was in the loss to Virginia Tech.
J.T. Barrett threw two second-half interceptions against the Nittany Lions Saturday night, the first being returned 40-yards the other way for a Penn State touchdown. Even with the costly turnover, the Buckeyes hung on for a 31-24 win in double overtime in State College, Pa.
Despite the off night from his quarterback, OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game he was pleased with the way Barrett continued to battle after a first-half injury.
“J.T. Barrett had a sprained knee, but came in and continued to do what he did,” Meyer said. “Even on the drop-back passes, he was either covered, sacked or pressured, but he pulled through a couple plays and made some big plays for us.”
Barrett said that the injury wasn’t too severe and he simply did his best to stay fresh late in the game.
“It wasn’t too much, just tweaked it,” Barrett said following the win. “Just trying to keep it loose throughout the second half, but it wasn’t anything crazy.”
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who led the Buckeyes with 26 carries for 109 yards and a score, said he was surprised to hear Barrett was playing hurt.
“I didn’t know his knee was hurt until after the game when the coaches told us,” Elliott said after the game. “I mean, he’s a warrior and the way he responded in overtime was huge. We fight for each other and we love each other.”
Meyer, who has previously complimented Barrett on his maturity as a young player, said Barrett seemed flustered during the third quarter following the first interception.
“The confidence got a little rattled there in the second quarter and then obviously the third quarter,” Meyer said. “The opening drive was, I think, a pick-six. In that kind of environment … He was walking around like an extremely confident quarterback in the third quarter, that wasn’t the case.”
Despite seeming influenced by his poor play and the hostile crowd, Meyer said Barrett responded exactly how he expected him to as the Wichita Falls, Texas, native scored both of OSU’s touchdowns in the overtime period to lead the Buckeyes to a win.
“I remember when I went on his home visit. To see the quality of people: his best friend, his family,” Meyer said. “To see the way that kid was raised. He’s a tough guy, man, who does things right. Usually people who do things right get rewarded.”
Rewarded he was, as the redshirt-freshman rushed for 32 of his 75 yards on the ground in the overtime periods. The key play came on second down, as Barrett pulled the ball from Elliott on a read option and picked up 17 yards, fooling most of the 107,895 people in Beaver Stadium.
The play was not by design but by decision Barrett said, giving credit to his coaches for dialing up the play.
“Just reading it each time, because when you go out there with an idea you play the idea and then you’re wrong,” Barrett said. “That’s (co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom) Herman right there for you.”
Barrett said his mindset didn’t change throughout the game, adding the offense had to pull together in order to escape with a win.
‘Anything you gotta do to win the game, and it wasn’t just me, it was the whole offense as a unit,” he said. “Just looking at each other like ‘hey, you haven’t been playing very well, let’s go finish it.’”
The Buckeyes finished, as they defeated Penn State for the third straight season.
OSU is scheduled to return home Nov. 1 to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini at 8 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.