The quarterback who had Ohio State backers most riled up late Saturday night was not Baker Mayfield.
Never mind that after leading Oklahoma to a 31-16 blowout of OSU at Ohio Stadium, the swaggering Sooner then rubbed more salt in the wounds of the Buckeye fans who stayed – and many didn’t – until the end of the game.
As soon as the clock drained, Mayfield – wearing a white headband and ear-to-ear exuberance — sprinted to north end zone to salute the small throng of Sooner fans whose chants had echoed through the Horseshoe in the final minute
He grabbed a large crimson and cream OU flag and began to take a lap around the stadium before veering to midfield where his teammates already were dancing on the Block O.
He then symbolically planted the flag – it’s FieldTurf, after all – right there in the center of the playing surface, deep in the hearts of all Buckeyes’ fans.
»RELATED: Photos from the game
While the move didn’t set well with at least one Ohio State player – referring to his team’s 45-24 victory in Norman last season, running back Mike Weber said: “We didn’t do that. Guess there’s not a lot of class there,” — the real target of Buckeye wrath was OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett.
As he came off the field, some catcalls were directed his way.
On social media, he was pilloried for everything from his play to his personal life.
And as soon as the still-numbed head coach Urban Meyer stepped into his postgame press conference, he was peppered with questions about his belief in Barrett and whether he was going to replace him as the starter.
Mind you this is the same Barrett who was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week just last week and was voted the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 and 2016. This is the quarterback who holds several all-time Buckeye passing records and is 27-5 as an OSU starter.
Accolades and past victories aside, this was a classic case of “what have you done for me lately.”
And except for the season-opening victory at Indiana a week ago, the Barrett-led OSU offense has sputtered in three of its last four games, a span that includes Michigan, a total embarrassment against Clemson in the playoff semifinals to end last season and now in Saturday night’s home opener in what goes down as the biggest Buckeye thumping in the Shoe in 18 years.
Mayfield, meanwhile, was masterful.
He extended plays with his elusiveness, feathered in short passes to his receivers, heaved perfect long balls and basically gave OSU’s suspect pass defense fits. He completed 27 of 35 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns.
Barrett – who did run for 66 yards – completed 19 of 35 passes for just 183 yards. He threw one interception, no touchdowns and was sacked three times. He often misfired and seemed to get worse as the game wore on.
Asked about replacing Barrett, Meyer cut the post-game inquisitor short:
He did say the offensive effort “was awful” and that Barrett is “the head dog and … he’s accountable “ but he made sure to underscore one point:
“I’m never going to point a finger at a quarterback….(And) I’m going to make it perfectly clear. There’s not a bull’s-eye on J. T. Barrett.”
Maybe not, but it sure seemed that way when Barrett emerged from the locker room afterward and got as roughed up in the media session as he had on the field by the OU defenders, especially the one-man Sooner wrecking ball – linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.
When told fans were pointing an accusing finger at him – that they think he “is to blame,” – Barrett seemed a bit taken aback, then quickly recovered:
“That’s how playing quarterback works. When you’re winning I get too much credit. (But) I try to give credit to the guys around me. I need 10 other guys to play well.
“And when we lose… I was to blame, too. Rightfully so, I didn’t play well. I missed a lot of throws. It’s a game of inches.
“And the life of a quarterback.”
As for Meyer sticking by him, he said:
“He has confidence in me. Understand I’ve been here before. Back in 2014 when we lost to Virginia Tech (in the home opener where the Bucks then went on to win the national title), I was 9 for 28. I been here before.
“And I didn’t play THAT bad.
“I definitely didn’t play up to par as far as putting us in the best situation. I’m going to get better and try to rally the guys for next week so we’re at our best.”
Weber believes he will:
“J.T. is a vet. He’s been here a long time. He knows how to come back from adversity. He’s a good quarterback and is gonna prove that to a lot of people in the future.”
When it comes to the naysayers, All American center Billy Price had some words for them:
“As fans you are entitled to your opinion, but … First and foremost, I want to say I have 100 percent confidence in J.T. He’s got us as a program where most haven’t.”
Price said a loss like this can have a corrosive effect:
“Right now is a time when doubt sets in. People talk in your ear: Hey, I shouldn’t be the center .J.T. shouldn’t be the quarterback. It brings in that doubt.”
He then pointed the finger as it should be aimed:
“Coaches are going to get better, I know. Players got to get better.”
The coaching – especially the offensive play calling that all but ignored the tailbacks at times — was suspect in this one.
Meyer touched on that briefly and there was no denying on this night he was outdone by the upstart across the field.
At 34, OU’s Lincoln Riley is the youngest coach in major college football. This was just his second game as a head coach and the Sooners were masterful in exploiting OSU’s weaknesses.
The Bucks do have areas of real concern and it’s not just Barrett.
Pass defense has been mostly non-existent so far this season. Indiana threw for 420 yards against OSU in the season opener and Mayfield went for 386.
On the flip side, Ohio State’s receivers aren’t doing much to help Barrett. They aren’t getting separation and too often when they have gotten open, they’ve dropped the ball. That was the case at IU and again Saturday night.
Barrett and the his receivers don’t seem in sync and it especially shows when the opposing defense plays zone coverage. In that situation Barrett has to trust his pass catchers and throw to a spot. He’s hesitating and admitted it afterward.
Meyer said the matters would be addressed quickly and then, just before he left his postgame press conference, he did say some nice things about the quarterback:
“He’s a good player, a really good player. And I told him afterward. I got a lot of respect. I love his competiveness and energy.”
Unfortunately, he was talking about Baker Mayfield.