Why Urban Meyer thinks J.T. Barrett is one of his best QBs yet

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Urban Meyer was sitting in his Ohio State office one day in mid-December when the conversation turned to one of his favorite subjects.

His quarterback, J.T. Barrett.

“I really believe this,” Meyer said. “I think he’s going to sit right here one day. Right here.”

Meyer pointed at his own desk. He wasn’t saying Barrett is simply going to be a college head coach someday; he’s saying Barrett will be the head coach at Ohio State someday. One of the most coveted and prestigious jobs in college football.

That’s how highly Meyer thinks of Barrett’s leadership ability, something the coach of the Buckeyes has raved about since shortly after the Texan raised by two military parents showed up in Columbus in 2013. Meyer has a history of darn near becoming soulmates with his star QBs, from Josh Harris at Bowling Green to Alex Smith at Utah to Tim Tebow at Florida. Here at Ohio State, Meyer maximized Braxton Miller and got three beautiful games out of Cardale Jones – but the Buckeye QB he prizes most is Barrett.

The closeness of this relationship seems to be verging on Tebow Territory.

Give Meyer a quality quarterback and he’s liable to take the world. He’s done it over and over, plugging dual-threat alpha males into his spread offense and watching the victories pile up.

Two national titles at Florida, one at Ohio State, plus a 12-0 record at Utah – Meyer has a résumé that is second only among active coaches to Nick Saban’s. The interesting thing is how differently they have viewed the quarterback position.

For Saban, it’s been more of a caretaker role on teams built around overpowering defenses. For Meyer, it’s a playmaker role that tends to become more all-encompassing as the games increase in importance.

“My quarterbacks have been those kind of guys,” Meyer said, referring to the hang-your-hat reliability of Harris, Smith, Tebow and Miller. “J.T. is one of the best of those guys I have ever been around.”

The proof is in the numbers. Meyer is riding Barrett this season nearly as hard as any of his great QBs.

To date, Barrett has run or passed on 540 of Ohio State’s 936 offensive snaps – which means he’s been involved in 57.7 percent of the Buckeyes’ plays.

Jump outside the Meyer box for a second and compare that to two of the great do-it-all quarterbacks of the 21st century. Cam Newton was used on 57.4 percent of Auburn’s offensive snaps while winning the Heisman Trophy and national title in 2010. Vince Young was used on 51 percent of Texas’ snaps on the way to the 2005 title.

How will J.T. Barrett and Ohio State fare against Clemson on Saturday? (Getty)
How will J.T. Barrett and Ohio State fare against Clemson on Saturday? (Getty)

Now, back to the Meyer Method: to find a higher rate of involvement for one of his quarterbacks, you have to go back to the Tebow Era at Florida. In his senior season, Tebow ran or passed of 57.8 percent of the Gators’ offensive snaps. When he won the Heisman in 2007, the number was a staggering 66 percent.

Outside of Tebow, the only other Meyer season that tops Barrett in 2016 for QB-intensive offense was with Harris at Bowling Green in 2002 (60 percent).

But in terms of the sheer number of plays for a Meyer QB in a season, Barrett is likely to surpass Tebow’s 2007 workload Saturday when Ohio State plays Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal. Tebow had 560 runs and passes in ’07; if Barrett simply hits his per-game average of 45 plays, he easily will be the most-used QB Meyer has ever had in a single season.

And then there is the possibility of another game beyond Clemson. Barrett could surpass 600 runs and passes on the season before all is said and done.

Meyer’s Linus-like dependency on his Barrett Blanket is all the more pronounced when the games are close. The redshirt junior run or passed on 72.3 percent of Ohio State’s offensive plays in the loss to Penn State; on 68.7 percent of its offensive plays in the squeaker at Michigan State; and on a whopping 75.6 percent of its offensive plays in the epic thriller against Michigan.

At no time was Meyer’s reliance on Barrett greater than the final drive of regulation against the Wolverines. Trailing by three, Barrett took the Buckeyes 77 yards for the tying field goal. He ran or passed on 11 of Ohio State’s 13 plays on the drive, completing three huge passes.

But the last of his 62 plays against the Wolverines was the most memorable, of course. It was Barrett’s run off left tackle on fourth-and-1, in which he ran for just a smidge more than needed to prevent instant defeat in double overtime. That was the Game of Inches Play of the Year in college football.

The play, and the resulting review of the spot, was so tense that Meyer has a picture on his phone of himself giving the head referee the side-eye on the sideline while the review was taking place.

“I’ll save that picture the rest of my life,” Meyer said with a smile, but added that he refused to watch the replay of that play even though it was shown on a loop on the TVs in the Ohio State football facility after the victory.

If Barrett doesn’t win that game of inches, the Buckeyes are playing for far lesser stakes this bowl season. And that would be a bitter pill for the quarterback to swallow.

“I know why he came here, he was very clear about it,” Meyer said. “It was to play for a national championship. … He said he couldn’t stand to go to another place and watch Ohio State play for a national championship.”

Barrett has a championship ring from 2014, but it was a bittersweet achievement. He spent that playoff run watching from the sideline with a cast on his leg after breaking it in the regular-season finale against Michigan.

“[A national title] was one of the things I wrote down as my goals as a freshman,” Barrett said. “The goal was reached, but playing in it is totally different. That’s something I definitely want to be a part of.”

After the injury, the weeks in late 2014 and early ’15 that Barrett spent getting around on a scooter were not the easiest, both literally and figuratively.

“It was a love-hate relationship (with the scooter),” Barrett said. “I loved it because it wasn’t crutches. Then I hated it because people would get on it like, ‘J.T., this must be so much fun.’

“I was like, ‘My brother, I can’t walk. After you finish with it, you go walk where you want to go. I’ve got to get back on the scooter.’ I was glad to see it go.”

With the scooter long gone and Barrett carrying the Ohio State offense to a degree that might be unmatched in program history, someone asked him if this season isn’t a kind of karmic repayment after watching backup Cardale Jones lead the Buckeyes to glory two years ago.

“I don’t think life works out that way,” Barrett said. “You put the time in, hard work in, you tend to be on the better half of things. As far as fate owing me anything? No, I don’t think it works out that way.”

He’s right about that: championships are far more likely to be won on merit than fate. But whatever happens to J.T. Barrett this postseason, it may simply be prologue to an even greater role in Ohio State program history.

If Urban Meyer is right, his quarterback may one day be coach of the Buckeyes.

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