Games against Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Penn State, Clemson and Oklahoma are quarterback J.T. Barrett’s only blemishes on a historic career at Ohio State. But all of that won’t matter Saturday against the No. 2 Nittany Lions.
This game largely defines Barrett’s career. A win and Ohio State remains in the playoff picture; a loss puts the Buckeyes out of the race.
Barrett is arguably playing better than he ever has in an Ohio State uniform heading into possibly the biggest game of his career.
However, even if Barrett performs at his best, that still might not be enough for a victory against Penn State, which would be the first loss in his career he has played well enough to win.
When looking back at Barrett’s complex, yet fruitful, five-year journey at Ohio State his play in losses sticks out like a sore thumb. Inaccuracy and a stationary offense, coupled with a poor offensive line and lack of skill at wide receiver, catalyzed the distrust in the offense and the call for changes at the quarterback position and the coaching staff. In his losses, he simply has never been good enough to win the game.
Here are Barrett’s passing numbers in losses:
Virginia Tech in 2014 – 9-for-29, 219 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions
Michigan State in 2015 – 9-for-16, 46 yards, one touchdown
Penn State in 2016 – 28-for-43, 245 yards, one touchdown
Clemson in 2016 – 19-for-33, 127 yards, two interceptions
Oklahoma in 2017 – 19-of-35, 183 yards, one interception
Those statistics speak for themselves, but Barrett can win big games.
His best game of his career is arguably at Michigan State in 2014, which is a game that draws a lot of similarities to Saturday’s showdown against Penn State. Michigan State was the reigning Big Ten champion with playmakers at the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions. Barrett threw for 300 yards and scored five total touchdowns on the biggest stage he had played to date.
He won in 2016 at No. 8 Wisconsin, home against No. 3 Michigan and he can win Saturday. However, the defense is the outlier that can decide the game.
Penn State’s offense is cooking just as Ohio State’s offense is at the moment. Coming into Columbus off a 42-13 beatdown of then-No. 19 Michigan is a loud statement proclaiming the Nittany Lions as the team to beat in the conference, which will only be validated with a win against the Buckeyes. Even if Barrett plays the best game of his career, is the defense good enough to stop the Nittany Lions?
It’s difficult to ask any defense to slow down Penn State running back Saquon Barkley; just ask head coach Urban Meyer.
“He’s the best all-purpose guy we’ve probably faced in probably, maybe my career,” he said.
Even if that defense manages to slow Barkley, there’s quarterback Trace McSorley, tight end Mike Gesicki and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton to contain. For an Ohio State defense that has surrendered 33 passing plays of 15-plus yards and 10 plays of 25-plus yards, that task is almost asking the unthinkable.
Especially when considering Penn State had 11 plays of 15-plus yards and six plays of 25-plus yards against a Michigan defense that is ranked near the top of nearly every defensive metric.
“Sometimes when you play an offense like this, you feel like you don’t have enough players to do it,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “That’s definitely the challenge.”
Barrett will certainly have his work cut out for him as well. He will face a Penn State defense that ranks first in opponents’ scoring, ninth in total defense and has several future NFL players on its roster. Yet, as mentioned before, Barrett is at the top of his game right now and can give Ohio State the performance it needs to knock off the Nittany Lions.
But will Barrett receive the needed help?
When Barrett wasn’t great in games last season, the defense saved him and the offense. This time around, he must be great. He must make as many crucial plays as possible. Even then, it might not be enough to keep Penn State from appearing a second time on Barrett’s list of losses.