The Key to J.T. Barrett's Resurgence in Ohio State's Offense? A Shift in Mindset

By Eric Seger on October 19, 2015 at 8:35 am
J.T. Barrett said he stopped pressing Saturday against Penn State. It paid huge dividends.

J.T. Barrett isn't one to show much emotion.

Even when he scores touchdowns, a fist pump and hug with one of his offensive linemen is usually the most excitement the Ohio State quarterback shows throughout the course of a game.

After the sophomore dialed up four touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to a 38-10 victory against Penn State Saturday, however, Barrett cracked through his shell of composure as he strolled to the podium to meet reporters.

"'Sup?" Barrett asked, a grin showing two rows of his pearly white teeth inhabiting his face.

It was just for a brief moment, but that is all that was really needed. This was a different Barrett than the one who last spoke with the media early in Ohio State's fall camp.

"I felt good," Barrett said. "I liked what we had game planned for them, we just had to execute the game plan. I felt good out there."

Barrett finished with 132 total yards, taking and commanding an offense from Cardale Jones to lead the top-ranked Buckeyes to their seventh win of 2015. But, Barrett has hardly looked like the guy that finished fifth in the 2014 Heisman Trophy voting through the first month of this season.

Barrett missed some throws in games against Northern Illinois, Hawai'i and Western Michigan. He threw two interceptions in relief of Jones, as both struggled to get the Ohio State offense rolling.

That changed Saturday.

"I think it was just my mindset," Barrett said. "The first few weeks I was trying to make plays, trying to make plays and I was trying to force it. With that, just asking for bad things to happen when you try to force things instead of letting the game come to you."

Barrett earned a team captainship at the end of fall camp, but didn't win the starting quarterback job. He and Jones, terrific friends and teammates, have acted cool about the battle between one another for the right to lead the offense. There's no animosity between them. Instead, they trust in the decision-making abilities of head coach Urban Meyer and the focus on what is in the best interest of the team.

“Being that I wasn't starting and then it comes to a game I want to make a play, want to make a play. That's how forcing it came along. Now I just come to games and execute the play that I have and big plays come out of that.”– J.T. Barrett

But these guys are competitors. They want to win the job. They're human.

"Being that I wasn't starting and then it comes to a game I want to make a play, want to make a play," Barrett said. "That's how forcing it came along. Now I just come to games and execute the play that I have and big plays come out of that."

Saturday against Penn State and the week prior against Maryland, Barrett's opportunities were relegated to when the offense advanced to the red zone. Why? There's not a bunch of science or stats behind it, he's just a better, more shifty runner than Jones. Meyer needed to find a way to kick up the unit's efficiency inside their opponent's 20 and has chosen to do so with the quarterback run, a strength of Barrett's.

By the end of Ohio State's victory against the Nittany Lions, Barrett was the guy holding the keys to the entire offense. Jones watched from the sideline.

"Definitely calming," running back Ezekiel Elliott said of Barrett. "Everything is in order when he’s in there and everything runs very smooth."

Barrett reached inside himself and channeled something from 2014 to help Ohio State move to 7-0 and 3-0 in Big Ten play. He let the game come to him, making excellent reads on read-option plays and often catching Penn State out of position.

"He was awesome running the read option for us, pulling and running the ball when the defensive end would close," Taylor Decker said. "That’s just J.T., the type of guy he is. He’s gonna be ready to go no matter what."

He was ready Saturday, and he stated his case to his head coach to be the starter.

"I just read we're 6-for-6 in the red zone again, so that's 12-for-12 the last 12 times we've been in there. First of all, it's a lot of times in there, which is good," Meyer said. "The second thing is just let me evaluate it, let you guys know on Monday, and go from there."

How much Meyer divulges in his weekly press conference will be unfolded soon. A perfect record sits in his back pocket, with a first-ever trip to Rutgers waiting on the horizon. Whether or not he makes a switch is up to him, though offensive coordinator Ed Warinner thinks one is unlikely.

"I don't anticipate any changes, but we'll see how it goes," Warinner said. "It's too early to make any decisions right now. It's the head coach's decision first of all, second of all we'll have a consult about it, but there's a reason we had Cardale starting and we just have to assess where we're at right now."

No matter what, all Barrett will do is keep smiling and working.

"I do what I can and do what I can control, focus on that, being that I will play the best I can and if that puts me in the starting position, that's fine," Barrett said. "If it doesn't, then I'll do what I can when I'm in the red zone. Just focusing on what I can control. That's the main thing I try to do."

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