There was more than just a game on the line Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio.
There was a chance at a Big Ten title on the line. There was a chance to appear in the College Football Playoff on the line. But for Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, it was his legacy on the line against Penn State in Ohio Stadium.
While Urban Meyer denied it during the week, Barrett's performance against the Nittany Lions – with the entire country watching – was going to shape how he would be remembered by Ohio State fans across the country. And boy, did he deliver.
Facing an 18-point deficit, Barrett was as close to perfect as he could be. The redshirt senior from Wichita Falls, Texas completed 33-of-39 passes for 328 yards and four scores, leading the Buckeyes to a 39-38 win in front of 109,302 at Ohio Stadium.
The win didn't only save Barrett's legacy as Ohio State's quarterback, it cemented it in stone.
"I'll just tell you, man-to-man, this is one man talking about another man. I don't know if I've ever had more respect for a human being and as a person," Meyer said when discussing Barrett in his postgame comments. "You earn respect and you witness people in very dire straits at times, tough situations."
Tough situation doesn't even begin to describe what Ohio State, and Barrett were up against in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 35-20 early in the final stanza, Barrett and J.K. Dobbins mishandled a handoff on 3rd-and-1, which resulted in a Penn State recovery. Even Meyer, one of the more confident coaches in the country, began to think the Buckeyes were doomed to fall yet again in a big game.
"I'll just tell you, man-to-man, this is one man talking about another man. I don't know if I've ever had more respect for a human being and as a person."– Urban Meyer on J.T. Barrett
"The one fumble I kind of thought, uh-oh," Meyer said.
That feeling of doubt that Meyer had is one he has had before. It came three years ago at Beaver Stadium, with a freshman quarterback from Texas running his offense.
"J.T. Barrett took the field; we were down by seven points after blowing the lead, and to see him lead an offense as a redshirt freshman into the student section, down by seven in the first overtime was — I just remember I'll probably never forget that look when I saw our offense taking the field against the whiteout of the student section, down by seven, against the defense that really kind of shut us down in the second half," Meyer said after defeating Penn State in 2014. "No. 1 rush defense in the country, and he takes us in for a score."
It was more than just a comeback win for Barrett and Ohio State though. It was a comeback win against a top team on the biggest of stages. In those situations recently, it hasn't gone exactly to plan for the Buckeyes. Losses to Clemson and Oklahoma began to put doubt into the minds of fans and media that Barrett might not be the man to lead the Scarlet and Gray back into playoff contention.
And Barrett proved all of them wrong.
In the process, he entered his name right back into the Heisman discussion, something he doesn't care to address.
"That 'H' word. I don't really focus on it. Next week we've got to go beat Iowa," Barrett said. "That's what I'll go focus on."
Barrett is right. He won't win the Heisman if Ohio State lays an egg against the Hawkeyes in a week up in Iowa City. Whether he wants to focus on it or not though, Barrett is right back under the national microscope after his performance against Penn State.
His coach, who has coached a Heisman winner before, agrees.
"I think that 'H' word is appropriate after today's game," Meyer said. "This has to be one of the best -- this is one of the best (games) I've ever seen a quarterback play."
The 'best game ever' tag would be a fair one, at least in Ohio State memory. Barrett set a school record with 16 consecutive completions at one point during the game against the No. 7 pass defense in the country. That doesn't just happen.
The path for Barrett to add to his legacy as Ohio State's quarterback is not a clear road. The Buckeyes still have to rattle off four more wins to guarantee a spot in Indianapolis to compete for a Big Ten title. There is still work to do.
However, no matter what happens the rest of this season, Barrett's legacy at Ohio State was saved, corrected and solidified against Penn State. He doesn't have to prove anything to anyone. He won the big game. If he wins a few more, he will go down as the greatest signal caller in program history and that – as Meyer is famous for saying – is real.