Just when it looked like No. 6 Ohio State was about to experience the upset bug again at the hands of a very game Northwestern squad, J.T. Barrett’s playmaking ability once again saved the Buckeyes.
Big plays by Barrett on the Buckeyes’ last two possessions enabled Ohio State (7-1, 4-1) to win a 24-20 squeaker in Ohio Stadium in front of 104,000 fans who were breathing a sigh of relief.
For the third straight week, Ohio State’s inconsistency on offense allowed its opponent to hang around long enough to make the game interesting.
After Northwestern (4-4, 3-2) tied the game 17-17 on a two-yard touchdown pass from Clayton Thorson to slot back Garrett Dickerson, the Buckeyes desperately needed an answer, especially after punts on their five previous possessions.
As he has done for much of the season, Barrett carried the Buckeyes to the go-ahead score. The biggest play on a six-play, 63-yard scoring drive came on second and eight at the Northwestern 45 when Barrett hit wide receiver K.J. Hill for a 34-yard gain to the Wildcats’ 10-yard line. Two plays later, Curtis Samuel scored the go-ahead touchdown.
Northwestern wasn’t done just yet. Thorson, using his arms and his legs, drove the Wildcats to the 16, setting up Jack Mitchell’s 33-yard field goal which cut the Ohio State lead to four.
When the Buckeyes got the ball back, it looked like their offensive inconsistency was going to bite them again. Instead, Barrett came through on a pair of game-clinching third down conversions. On the first, he hit Noah Brown for a 16-yard gain to the Buckeye 43.
Moments later, with Ohio State facing a third and 10 from its own 43, Barrett, on a quarterback draw, streaked to a 35-yard gain to enable the Buckeyes to run out the clock.
“And then the (Quarterback) run, which if you have an athletic quarterback, they play two man, you can make them pay the price. So J.T. was outstanding. And nothing was perfect, but we’re going to enjoy that win and go.”
For the game, Barrett accounted for 294 of Ohio State’s 431 yards. For the first time as a starter, Barrett didn’t score a touchdown passing or running. Yet, he still had a significant impact on the game even during Ohio State’s struggles.
With Barrett facing stiff competition for the Heisman, the college football powers that be ought to create a different award for the redshirt junior that honors his ability to come through for his team in the clutch. Just about every time this season that Ohio State was in trouble or on the ropes, Barrett finds a way for his team to win.
It wasn’t easy.
Northwestern’s defense kept Ohio State’s offense stuck in neutral and shut out the Buckeyes for their first four possessions of the second half. Defensively, Ohio State had problems stopping Thorson as both a runner and a passer. The redshirt sophomore passed for 256 yards with one touchdown and ran for 44 yards on six carries and one touchdown. Wide receiver Austin Carr caught eight passes for 158 yards for NU.
On Northwestern’s final drive — which resulted in a field goal before Barrett was able to run out the clock — the young Ohio State defense got more pressure on Thorson and did not lose Carr on a third-down passing route. This display of airtight attentiveness forced the hand of Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. He could have gone for the first down, but he chose to kick for three points, hoping he’d get the ball back.
He never did.
J.T. Barrett made sure of it.
As a result, Ohio State — not a team free of problems but a team which responded well to pressure on Saturday — enters the month of November with all its goals intact.