Can J.T. Close The Deal?

By Jeff Rapp, December 2nd, 2017

Ohio State paid tribute to 19 outgoing seniors on Nov. 18. The last to be introduced, of course, was Joe Thomas Barrett IV – known affectionately or unaffectionately, depending on your point of view, as J.T.

As Barrett’s name was announced over the PA and the veteran quarterback leaned in to hug head coach Urban Meyer, the Ohio Stadium crowd of better than 105,000 roared – and I felt a little relieved.

Barrett is clearly deserving of the adulation, especially in a football mecca where he has delivered the goods for years, yet I still wasn’t sure if his supporters would drown out the dissenters.

After all, flip on the radio or read comments at the end of an online article about the Buckeyes and it seems there is sheer venom out there constantly directed at No. 16 and blaming him for every shortcoming.

Barrett, somehow, has handled all of the criticism incredibly well, letting his play and his 35-6 record as a starter do the talking. However, even he got a little testy in the days leading up to his home swan song when he was asked if he feels he was a key to OSU’s national championship of 2014.

His response: I’m not giving back my ring.

Nor should he. He also needn’t apologize for a career in which he has set 35 different program or Big Ten records while amassing more yards than anyone in school history and approaching the mark for most wins by a starting QB.

After Barrett was greeted by Meyer and a few teammates, he curled back out to the field where his parents were waiting. I stood a few feet away and watched Stacy and Joe Barrett smile proudly and hug their son prior to his final home game in scarlet and gray. It was a well-earned and rare moment of satisfaction for Barrett, who arrived from Wichita Falls, Texas, as an underappreciated prospect who injured his knee as a senior. He redshirted, earned the starting job when Braxton Miller was hurt and has held down the job virtually since he seized it.

Still, criticism has followed Barrett around like a rabid blitzing linebacker.

I’ve often wondered if the anti-Barrett crowd is actually dominant or more of a loud minority, so I polled my friends on Facebook. Almost all of the responses read something like the following:

“One of the best ever.”

“People will try and take away because he was there 5 years, systems, coach, whatever. He has the most TDs at the position in school and B10 history – that’s MASSIVE.”

“The best all-around QB in OSU history. Naysayers are just wrong. He’s done more for OSU over a longer time period than any other signal caller. Only Braxton Miller comes close.”

“He is a gifted and humble leader and player. I will really miss him!”

“A great young man, athlete and leader.”

“A class act all the way.”

Those assessments restored my faith in Buckeye Nation and set up Barrett for an epic day at Michigan on Nov. 25. A win there would tie him with Art Schlichter for the most ever by an OSU quarterback and would allow him to walk campus as the only Buckeye QB to be 4-0 against That Team Up North.

It all happened – sort of.

Barrett added a strange chapter to The Game when he was on the wrong end of Cameragate as an unidentified reporter whacked his camera into the OSU captain’s already damaged right knee just before the game. Barrett had to leave the field with the Buckeyes trailing 20-14, opening the door for redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins Jr.

Ohio State scored the game’s final 17 points and pulled away for a 31-20 win with Haskins at the helm, allowing the skeptics to re-emerge and tarnishing Barrett’s accomplishment. As fate would have it, Barrett had to undergo arthroscopic “clean-up” surgery on Sunday and is now very questionable to play at all against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game (8:17 p.m. Eastern, FOX).

Barrett has amassed more yards than any player in OSU history thanks in large part to his underrated running ability.

So here we go again. Barrett has four wins over UM but had to be helped off the field in the second half of two of them. He watched the 2014 league title game against Wisconsin with his right leg resting on a scooter and now he may not be forced to the sideline yet again. He just was named the conference’s top quarterback for the third straight year, which is unprecedented, but many OSU fans don’t think he’s even the best QB on his team.

He could have broken the school QB mark for wins, clinched a Big Ten banner and put his team in rightful position for the College Football Playoff. Instead, he may have to simply watch Haskins take all the glory – or flush all the goals for his senior season.

Or maybe, just maybe, Barrett will be able to play against the rugged Badgers defense mere days after undergoing surgery.

“I’ve had players have similar type things happen; they’re out two, three weeks,” Meyer said. “But he’s not normal.”

Hopefully, Ohio State fans don’t forget that.

Certainly, no matter how well Haskins and others do throwing the ball post-Barrett, it will hard for any of them to direct the team as well or be as effective a runner.

So why is Barrett so productive when he takes off with the ball? I mean, he’s no Braxton, his critics often point out.

“He’s deceptively fast,” Meyer said. “He’s a very good athlete. And he’s very rarely a minus-yardage guy. The things that drive you nuts is when the quarterback starts going that way – and that’s holding penalties and something’s not there.

“It’s not always going to be perfect; put your foot in the ground and get positive yardage. I thought Dwayne did a hell of a job against our rivals last week. And J.T. is probably the best I’ve had at that, as far as just positive yardage when the play breaks down.”

Yards will be hard to come by at Lucas Oil Stadium. And J.T. Barrett has a couple more chapters to write. Count me among those who wants to see No. 16 out on the field on Saturday night.