After Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett’s 19-for-35, 183-yard, one-interception performance in a 31-16 loss to Oklahoma in Week 2, the idea of the redshirt senior possibly winning a Heisman Trophy seemed improbable.
But over the next six games, Barrett threw 22 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He capped the stretch off with a 15-point fourth-quarter comeback against Penn State, throwing 33-for-39 for 328 yards and four touchdowns in a 39-38 win. Following the victory, head coach Urban Meyer called Barrett’s performance near perfect and said it was one of the greatest games in college football.
Meyer did not shy away from discussing Barrett’s potential Heisman Trophy candidacy in his postgame press conference when asked, saying he thinks “that H-word is appropriate after today’s game.” Barrett reiterated that “H-word,” but stopped short of going any further.
“He said the H-word. I’m going to say the same thing, that H-word,” Barrett said after the game. “I don’t really focus on it. Next week we’ve got to go beat Iowa. That’s what I’ll go focus on.”
That did not happen. Ohio State lost in a decisive 55-24 drubbing. Without knowing which team was in contention for a College Football Playoff berth, Iowa would have seemed like the obvious title challenger.
Barrett’s Heisman candidacy ended as quickly as it began. The redshirt senior quarterback opened up the Iowa game throwing an interception, which was returned 30 yards for a touchdown by sophomore safety Amani Hooker. But Barrett responded well, driving the offense 80, 74 and 77 yards on his second, third and fourth drives of the game, respectively. He threw a 29-yard touchdown to wideout Terry McLaurin, Ohio State settled for a 27-yard field goal and Barrett hit receiver Johnnie Dixon for a 44-yard touchdown pass.
Barrett said the Hawkeyes played tighter coverage than the Buckeyes expected, which led to the early interception. Ohio State quickly adjusted to the tight coverage, which led to the McLaurin touchdown, Barrett said.
“Then as we hit a couple shots, they started backing off and we didn’t make those adjustments [for ourselves],” Barrett said Tuesday.
Everything began to change as the Buckeyes struggled with the Hawkeyes’ loose coverage after succeeding against tighter-than-expected defensive backs. Dixon’s touchdown tied the game at 17 points apiece. But the Hawkeyes rode 31 straight points from the late second quarter to the early fourth quarter to pull ahead from the tie and take a commanding 48-17 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining in the game.
“I think a lot of it was just trying to make play instead of letting the guys around me make those plays,” Barrett said. “They were sinking on things and I was just pressing the issue too much, especially after throwing that pick early.”
As the game went on and the Buckeyes fell further and further behind, Barrett began to press.
“Early I didn’t feel that way, but as we were down, it was one of those things, like, trying to make a play,” Barrett said. “It was really being down trying to make something happen, make a momentum shift for all of the guys.”
During Iowa’s 31-unanswered-point run, the Buckeyes gained just 33 yards and the quarterback threw two interceptions.
By the end of the game, Barrett had completed 18-of-34 passes for 208 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions, the latter being the most in his collegiate career. His stunning Penn State performance in which he finished the game having completed his final 16 passes seemed so long ago when the clock finally struck zero in Iowa City, Iowa, and the fans stormed the field at Kinnick Stadium.
Unlike Ohio State’s loss earlier this season, the loss to the Hawkeyes flung the Buckeyes out of the playoff conversation. Now, the best-case scenario likely stands as a Big Ten championship and a bowl game against a fellow two-loss team. However, Barrett adamantly stated the most recent loss feels no different than any of his other six.
“It wasn’t like this loss hurt more than the other one, really,” Barrett said. “The most difficult one is when we didn’t score against Clemson. This one, I feel like, wasn’t anything different despite how I was playing. I was still upset.”
He had every reason to be upset with both his performance, which Meyer deemed “really inconsistent,” and the rest of his team’s poor showing. After the game, it was clear neither he, nor the team, would earn the national championship they desire.
As quickly as Barrett’s Heisman candidacy emerged, it sunk back beneath the surface, this time taking Ohio State’s playoff chances with it.