For nearly everyone associated with Ohio State Buckeye football, it’s been a long eight months.
Every day since this past New Year’s Eve has been equal parts confusion and frustration, thanks to a stunning shutout loss to the Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl. The fact said team went on to win the National Championship did little to ease the blow of a 31-0 rout and an earlier season finale than most in scarlet and grey were hoping for.
While many have spent the time since regrouping and preparing for a new campaign, you could argue nobody needed to bounce back from that rough December night more than quarterback J.T. Barrett. Seen as one of the key figures in the Clemson defeat, the senior from Wichita Falls, Texas spent the offseason preparing to prove he could rebound from his woeful playoff performance and help his team live up to its always-high expectations.
Make no mistake, last night’s season opening victory over the Indiana Hoosiers was far from perfect. That said, while he still has a ways to go, Barrett did enough to get his long redemption tour off on the right foot.
Barrett’s final line – 20 of 35 passing for 305 yards and three touchdowns – certainly implies he had himself a big night. It just took him far longer than anyone would’ve liked to get there. As the two teams headed into the locker room at halftime, many Buckeye faithful were likely having flashbacks of Barrett’s shaky and uninspiring New Year’s Eve showing.
The quarterback got off to an incredibly sluggish start, finishing the half with a paltry 95 yards and completing only 48% of his passes. Everyone was told to expect a far more confident Barrett, a player who was going to come storming out of the gates in a rare conference opener looking to erase doubts left from last season. What they instead saw was a player who looked just as tentative in this game as he did under the lights eight months ago, and it played a big part in the Buckeyes 14-13 halftime deficit.
Maybe after such a long time off between games, all Barrett needed was a couple extra quarters to gather his wits. When he and his teammates returned to the field to start the second half, they started playing like the Ohio State squad everyone expected.
Barrett collected 173 of his 305 passing yards in the third quarter alone, and on nine throws no less. Obviously, having receivers Parris Cambell and Johnnie Dixon rip off lengthy scores on short catches helped the cause. At the same time, if Barrett doesn’t hit either in stride, they certainly aren’t collecting that kind of YAC.
All in all, last night’s 49-21 victory was exactly what Barrett needed to help erase some painful memories from last year’s season finale.
It’s quite a shame, honestly, that everyone’s lasting recollection of the Buckeye QB was the underwhelming performance against Clemson. He certainly wasn’t awful last season. Ohio State made it to the playoffs, and the play of their quarterback was a big reason why.
Still, we live in a culture which puts a lot of stock in “what have you done for me lately?” The lasting image everyone had of Barrett was a 127 yard, two interception flop in a game where Ohio State seemed out of contention soon after the opening quarter. As a result, he came into this season facing a healthy amount of doubt, with many wondering if he was indeed the best man to lead the team.
Opening the year in the national spotlight against an Indiana team which, though unranked, always gives the Buckeyes a good fight, Barrett certainly had his work cut out for him. However, after a couple questionable quarters, he took a big step towards proving he can erase the image of the playoff loss.
In the end, it was only one game. He and his teammates have a week to soak it in before hosting the No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners in Columbus next Saturday. Should Barrett take a step back in such a crucial game, he’ll be thrust under the microscope yet again.
For now, though, he has something to build off of. This was a player who badly needed to come out swinging in 2017, and last night he did just that.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook