Fantastic football plays stick with you like lines from favorite movies.
Zeke’s 85-yard dash against Alabama. Holy Buckeye. Andy Katzenmoyer crushing Missouri quarterback Corby Jones. A shoeless Keith Byars running to daylight. Eddie sprinting past Notre Dame.
Everyone has a few. Among mine? At Minnesota. Nov. 15, 2014. On a snowy field in frigid temperatures, a kid — and at that point he was still a kid to me — Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett started left, cut right and outraced the Gophers’ defense for an 86-yard touchdown that gave the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead in what ended up being a nervy 31-24 win. It was the longest TD run by an OSU quarterback in school history. And it showed me something. The kid — who has become a man — is sneaky good. Just when you begin to seriously wonder what makes Barrett special, he shows the surprising speed, accuracy and toughness that makes you refuse to give up on him.
And trust me, I’ve come close to giving up. Who hasn’t? I mean, Barrett does not possess the arm strength of Art Schlichter — the only OSU quarterback with more wins (36) than J.T. (35) — the incredible moves of Braxton Miller or the combined size and speed of Terrelle Pryor. He will not win the Heisman Trophy, as Troy Smith did in 2006. And he has not won a national championship as the Buckeyes’ starter, as Rex Kern and Craig Krenzel did in 1968 and 2002. Although it could still happen.
I put Smith atop my list of best Ohio State quarterbacks — a Twitter survey shows that 52 percent agree, with Barrett coming in second at 40 percent — but I would move Barrett to No. 1 if he leads the Buckeyes to a national title in January. First, of course, Ohio State needs to make the four-team playoff. It took another step in that direction by smothering Illinois 52-14 on Saturday in rain-drenched Ohio Stadium.
Barrett was good against the Illini — 11-of-19 passing for 141 yards and two touchdowns, with another 33 yards rushing and a TD — if not exceptional. Which pretty much describes him. Barrett does most things well, a few things beautifully and occasionally wows your socks off, like completing 16 consecutive passes against Penn State. But he is not going to blow you away with any one thing, except running an offense. Which is kind of important.
I asked the fifth-year player — Saturday was his last start in the Horseshoe — how he wants Buckeyes fans to remember him.
“A guy who was competitive, who cared about his teammates. A winner,” he said. “Those are the things that if said (by others) mean a lot to me and my family.”
Barrett owns nearly every passing record at Ohio State, and his rushing stats rank high, too. But it is his presence that promotes him above many of the other quarterbacks who have worn the scarlet and gray, not to mention the grayscale, black, white and camo.
“He’s one of the greatest competitors in college football,” said four-year starter Billy Price, who has lined up in front of Barrett the whole way.
Price was there in the snow when Barrett zig-zagged for 86 against the Golden Gophers. And he was there when Barrett barreled for the first down (barely) on fourth-and-1 in double overtime against Michigan last season. He sees greatness in his quarterback.
Barrett only sees the next game. It’s off to the Big House.
“I don’t think it’s going to be pleasant,” he said of the reception he expects to receive in Ann Arbor. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to hate me, but you gotta learn to love the hate. I like being hated sometimes.”
Like I said, the guy will surprise you.