It was a surprise and continued to be a surprise until late in Ohio State’s football season.
How could J.T. Barrett, who had broken Ohio State’s season record for touchdown passes and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting before a broken leg opened the door for Cardale Jones’ postseason heroics not be the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback?
Jones began the season as the starter. And even though he was inconsistent and rarely replicated his dazzling feats in the final three games of the 2014 season, it wasn’t until the eighth game of the season against Rutgers that Barrett reclaimed the starting job.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said that until then Barrett wasn’t playing well enough to beat out Jones.
During pre-bowl interviews at Ohio State, Barrett seemed to agree with his coach.
“I wasn’t playing great at the beginning of the year so it was not like I should have been the starter,” he said. “I was not playing well, so that was the reason why.”
Barrett’s season took another bad turn when, after being stopped for driving under the influence, he was suspended for the Minnesota game. But he returned to start the final three games of the regular season and the redshirt sophomore will be the starting quarterback against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and next season, maybe the next two seasons.
“You just have got to stay patient and be ready and don’t get stressed out, I feel like I put a lot of stress on myself in that I was not playing like I would like to. But then I had to think about it, and after a while it was just like, ‘J.T. are you really playing well enough to be the starter?’ “ he said.
He did not capitalize when given the opportunity to play most of the game against Northern Illinois early in the season. Barrett completed 11 of 19 passes for 97 yards in that game.
Early in the season, Barrett kept thinking about what he could have done differently, a trait not helpful to a quarterback that he has always battled.
“It was one of those deals just trying to figure out just why weren’t things happening my way, a lot of thinking to myself. That is a thing that I have a problem with. I beat myself up sometimes too much,” he said.
“I remember my mom and dad telling me to just relax because I kept on talking about a game, bringing it up because I remember different plays that happened in the course of the game that I wish that I had back. You just can’t do that as quarterback, you will drive yourself crazy,” he said.
Ohio State’s offensive statistics and Barrett’s numbers both dropped this season.
The Buckeyes averaged 35.0 points a game this season compared to 44.8 last year and gained an average of 428.9 yards a game, down from 511.6 yards a game a year ago. After throwing for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2014, Barrett passed for 781 yards and 10 touchdowns in a disjointed season this fall.
Though Barrett will have a new running back and several new offensive linemen and receivers around him, OSU coach Urban Meyer expects improvement from his quarterback next season.
“I think any time that you are the starting quarterback, like next year when he is the starting quarterback, I would anticipate a nice gradual incline during the season,” Meyer said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau