One of the things, maybe one of the few things everyone can agree on about Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, is that he brings his best to Michigan games.
The fifth-year senior is one of three Ohio State quarterbacks to go 3-0 in his career against the Wolverines and has a chance to become the first ever to go 4-0 when the Buckeyes go to Michigan on Saturday.
The first Ohio State quarterback to win three times against Michigan was Tippy Dye, who played quarterback, played defense and returned punts from 1934-1936, in an era when an athletic 5-foot, 7-inch, 145-pound quarterback could survive in the Big Ten.
OSU shut out Michigan 34-0, 38-0 and 21-0 in the three years Dye played quarterback. He had three career touchdown passes in OSU-Michigan games and had a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown in 1935.
The second quarterback to go 3-0 was Troy Smith, who threw for seven touchdowns against the Wolverines, including four of them in the No. 1 against No. 2 game in 2006. He averaged 285 passing yards a game in those three wins and also ran for a pair of scores.
Barrett has run for more touchdowns (6) than he has thrown for (2) against Michigan. His 2014 season, the year that began his streak, ended when he suffered a broken ankle early in the fourth quarter of a 42-28 win.
His keeper for one yard that barely made it for a first down in the second overtime of last year’s 30-27 win over Michigan kept the game going for Curtis Samuel to score the winning touchdown on the next play.
For Barrett, going 4-0 is secondary to something else. “I think it’s cool as long as we win the game,” he said.
The Texas native became OSU’s starter a year earlier than expected as a redshirt freshman when Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury in August 2014 drastically changed the Buckeyes’ quarterback succession plan.
Barrett was brilliant (2,834 passing yards and 34 touchdowns and 938 rushing yards and 11 TDs) right up to the moment he suffered the broken ankle.
Cardale Jones came in to finish that game and helped OSU win the national championship. In a somewhat surprising move, perhaps related at least partially to the lingering effects of Barrett’s injury, Jones was named the starter in 2015.
Barrett eventually won the job back and has kept it the last two seasons. But the unanimous approval he had as a redshirt freshman in 2014 never returned.
His numbers, like being the Ohio State career leader in passing yards, setting the Big Ten record for touchdowns accounted for and having a 35-6 record as a starter say he is one of the best quarterbacks ever at OSU.
But some people still question if he belongs among the greats and say he needs to confirm he belongs among them with a win at Michigan.
Such things are not on Barrett’s mind going into Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor.
“Everybody has to be locked in on the team up north. All this other stuff right now doesn’t matter because at the end of the day you come to Ohio State for certain things – to play for Big Ten championships, to be a national champion. Bottom line is when you play the team up north you go out there to win,” he said on Tuesday.
At least one of his teammates thinks Barrett going 4-0 is kind of a big deal, though.
Wide receiver Parris Campbell said, “I think it’s huge. It’s a big-time achievement, that’s for sure.”
When Barrett was asked after a 52-14 win over Illinois last Saturday how he wants to be remembered, he said, “As a person who’s competitive, who cares about his teammates and that he was a winner. Those things mean a lot to me and my family.”
Ohio State has beaten Michigan five times in a row, 12 times in the last 13 seasons and 14 of the last 16, so Barrett expects a chilly welcome on Saturday. And there is also the memory of that controversial spot on his fourth down run last year.
“I don’t think it’s going to be pleasant. I’m sure they’re going to hate me. But you’ve got to learn to love the hate. I like being hated sometimes. I don’t mind it,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.