J.T. Barrett often speaks so softly during interviews with the throng of reporters who cover the Ohio State Buckeyes, it’s hard to hear him from two steps away. Barrett’s a low talker, as opposed to the teammate who snaps him the ball, center Billy Price, who follows a long line of Ohio State offensive linemen whose voices are as large as their frames.
Barrett’s not much different on the field. He owns almost all of the Ohio State passing records — and a number of Big Ten ones, too — though he’s far from the flashiest quarterback to play for the Buckeyes.
Despite sub-par performances in losses to Oklahoma and Iowa this season, Barrett has also been a big winner for the Buckeyes, and he can add to his legacy at noon Saturday when No. 9 Ohio State (9-2, 7-1) plays at Michigan (8-3, 5-3). He could become the first Ohio State quarterback to start in four victories against Michigan.
That would mean a lot to Barrett, who learned to hate the Wolverines long before he arrived on campus in Columbus.
“It was really kind of odd,” Barrett said Monday. “I committed (to Ohio State) on April 18 (in 2012), and I remember it was a week later that there was a guy that committed to the team up north, and he had an Ohio State letter and he burned it. I had this deep hatred that flared up inside me. Why would you do that? I got letters from the team up north. I didn’t burn them. That’s kind of whack.”
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That player, Logan Tuley-Tillman, didn’t last with the Wolverines. He was dismissed from the team in 2015. Barrett, on the other hand, has forged a storied career. His success against Michigan is a big part of it.
As a freshman, Barrett learned about the rivalry from former players who spoke to the team.
“We talked about the gold pants,” Barrett said. “We talked about the tradition of riding up there on a bus. And then don’t say the M word.”
Barrett has not put up big passing yards against Michigan in his first three starts. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 176 yards with one touchdown pass in 2014. He left that game after breaking his ankle on the first play of the fourth quarter.
In 2015, Barrett completed 9 of 15 passes for 113 yards with one touchdown. Last season, he completed 15 of 32 passes for 124 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
Barrett has been better against Michigan on the ground, averaging 117.7 yards in the three games and totalling five touchdowns.
Since rushing for 163 yards in a loss at Iowa, Ohio State has gained 335 and 325 yards in the last two games against Michigan State and Illinois. The ground game will be a key factor for the Buckeyes on Saturday.
“It’s definitely a physical game, and there’s a lot of emotion behind it,” Barrett said. “Getting (the offensive line) going early coming off the ball is going to be critical for us and not being on our heels in third-and-long and second-and-long. We’ve got to be sure to manage that, especially early in the game.”