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Football: Ohio State quarterback JT Barrett hitting his stride in final tune-up before Penn State game

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett rushes for a first down in the Buckeyes’ 56-14 victory against Nebraska on Oct. 14. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

LINCOLN, Nebraska — As 28 mph winds continued to throw around the flags atop the goalposts, quarterback J.T. Barrett stood playing solitaire on his iPhone, waiting for his turn to speak at the lectern.

At that moment, Barrett was trying to keep his mind occupied as he prepared to reflect in front of the media on his work against Nebraska in Ohio State’s 56-14 victory. Afterward, it would be time to catch a flight back to Columbus and relax as he prepares for the bye week ahead.

Moving forward, Barrett won’t have any time to relax as the team begins preparation Monday for its most important game of the season — Penn State on Oct. 28 in Ohio Stadium.

Barrett, head coach Urban Meyer and the rest of the team know the momentum built up in Saturday’s game, their final game before they face the Nittany Lions, will have to be the last gust of wind in Ohio State’s sails before its do-or-die game against Penn State.

“We know what’s coming next,” Meyer said. “It’s very clear and that conversation was had. We’re going to enjoy the win. They get a day off tomorrow and then we come back to work on Monday and get ready for a big one.”

If Saturday’s game was any indication, Barrett will enter the next home game as a vastly improved quarterback from the last time his team squared off against a top-10 opponent and lost to Oklahoma in Week 2. By the time he exited the field Saturday in the fourth quarter, the results spoke for themselves: eight drives, eight touchdowns.

The three-time captain finished the game 27-for-33 passing with 325 yards and five touchdowns, while also rushing for 48 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns. His seven touchdowns responsible for tied a single-game Ohio State record.

He seemed as comfortable and in command under center as he has all season. He sat in the pocket, calm and composed when given the time to wait for an open man downfield. When the pocket collapsed, he was able to effectively scramble outside, taking off down the field if no one was open or just throw the defense off enough to open up a receiver.

Barrett said he isn’t quite sure if how he is playing now is the best he has ever played or if he still has more left to offer.

“I think I’m playing well right now and that goes into great practice and preparation, and I think there’s been great communication from [co-offensive coordinator Ryan] Day and what he needs from me and how we’re attacking each and every team each and every week,” Barrett said. “So I think we’ve just got to keep on building off that.”

The progress he has made since the team’s loss to the Sooners has been noticeable. Barrett had less than 200 yards in the game against Oklahoma, didn’t complete a touchdown pass and completed only 54.3 percent of his passes. Since then, he has surpassed 200 yards, has at least two touchdowns and has completion percentages more than 63.6 percent every game. To put that in perspective, the Ohio State record for completion percentage in a career is 63.4 percent.

The question now becomes: Is the recent string of success a product of improvements in Barrett or the opponents faced?

During this stretch, the Buckeyes have not faced a ranked opponent and have been drastically superior to every team — both on paper and on the field — so much so that Barrett has received extra rest by the end of each of the games with the backup quarterbacks making appearances.

Only time will tell if this Barrett is the one the Nittany Lions will face, or if it is merely a mirage, appearing only in a stretch of the schedule in which quality opponents have not been seen.

As Meyer said, the quarterback runs the show. If Ohio State is going to win, Barrett will need to be at the top of his game. Just as Barrett has the potential to extend this period of success, so, too, do the rest of the Buckeyes.

“This is a good football team,” Meyer said. “How good? We’re going to find out down the stretch run right here.”

Barrett has some time before that final stretch of the schedule begins. At least after the game, it’s just time to relax.

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