J.T. Barrett is to Ohio State football what Robbie Hummel was to Purdue basketball — a focal point for years and steadying presence, someone who’s seemingly been there since the beginning of time.
“I think this is his 16th year (at Ohio State),” Penn State coach James Franklin said jokingly at his Tuesday press conference. “Maybe going on 17.”
In reality, 2017 is Barrett’s fifth and — thankfully for the Big Ten — final season in Columbus.
But boy does it feel longer, especially for the Nittany Lions. They’ve lost to Barrett twice in three years — and hope the same doesn’t happen on Saturday when No. 2 Penn State visits No. 6 Ohio State.
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“J.T. Barrett is a really great player,” Penn State senior safety Marcus Allen said. “He’s experienced. He knows what he’s doing back there. He’s a leader.”
Since he contended for the Heisman Trophy and guided Ohio State to a national title as a redshirt freshman in 2014, Barrett’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
The Buckeyes’ leader has amassed 11,043 total yards and 126 touchdowns in 43 career games. That’s a remarkable 256.8 yards and 2.93 touchdowns per contest.
Barrett is one touchdown throw away from passing Drew Brees for the most ever in Big Ten history. He’s 322 yards shy of overtaking Antwaan Randle El for the No. 5 spot on the conference’s all-time yards list and needs 1,649 over the next six or possibly seven or eight games to become No. 1.
Barrett owns 21 Ohio State records and boasts a 32-5 mark as a starter.
“One of the most successful quarterbacks in school history, if not the most. One of the most successful quarterbacks in Big Ten history and nationally,” Franklin said. “I mean, you’ve got to just completely respect everything that guy’s been able to do in his career.”
That includes what he’s done against Penn State.
Give the Nittany Lions credit. They shut down Barrett last season in their massive 24-21 upset.
But as a freshman, Barrett led the Buckeyes to a double-overtime win at Beaver Stadium with three touchdowns (two rushing, one passing). In Ohio State’s 38-10 win in 2015 — a game that Cardale Jones started — Barrett had four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) on 15 touches (four passing, 11 rushing attempts).
“You have a track record of what he usually does,” Allen said.
Though, the scary thing for Penn State isn’t what Barrett’s done in the past. It’s what he’s doing now.
Shaking off a shoddy performance in a Week 2 loss to Oklahoma, No. 16 has been on-point. Barrett — under the direction of new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson — has dominated during Ohio State’s five-game winning streak with 1,583 total yards, 19 touchdowns, a 72.1 completion percentage and zero interceptions.
On the season, Barrett’s 173.8 passing efficiency rating sits fourth nationally behind only Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, UCF’s Mckenzie Milton and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.
“With J.T.’s leadership at the helm of the team, he’s really taken control of that offense,” Penn State senior cornerback Grant Haley said. “They’re playing some really good football right now.”
Added Allen: “He’s playing to his best ability this season.”
Now, the Nittany Lions aren’t going to be quivering in their boots. Nor should they. Penn State contained Barrett in 2016, recording six sacks and holding him to 26 rushing yards on 16 attempts.
But the Nittany Lions understand what they’re up against: An offense that’s lighting it up, averaging 53.2 points per game in its last five, with a Heisman-caliber quarterback leading the charge.
With gunslingers like Mayfield, Rudolph, Sam Darnold and Luke Falk commanding attention in 2017, it almost seems like the nation has forgotten about Barrett.
Well, the Nittany Lions haven’t. They know him all too well.
“You’ve got an experienced play-making quarterback playing in a scheme that really accents his abilities and his supporting cast,” Franklin said. “So it’s going to be a real challenge. There’s no doubt about it.”