J.T. Barrett will play Saturday for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
That has been the question all week, and coach Urban Meyer answered it Thursday on his weekly radio show in Columbus. Doctors cleared Barrett for the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday against Wisconsin, even though, according to a report by the Columbus Dispatch, he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Sunday, one day after the 31-20 victory at Michigan.
The good news for No. 8 Ohio State (10-2) is even if Barrett re-injures the knee or is limited in any way, the Buckeyes believe his backup is good enough to beat No. 4 Wisconsin (12-0) in Indianapolis. That’s how strong Dwayne Haskins played in Ann Arbor when he replaced the injured Barrett in the third quarter.
“To go into that arena, to go on the road and to be behind and answer the call, that was a great job by him,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Tuesday. “It gives the team a lot of confidence.”
Wilson heard about Barrett’s run-in with a cameraman on the sideline when Ohio State was playing defense against Michigan on the opening possession. His reaction was, “What? Can he run?”
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Barrett told the coaches he was good to go and didn’t feel limited. Then the offense opened the game with three three-and-out drives, losing yards on five of its first nine plays. Michigan sacked Barrett twice on those three possessions in the first quarter. The Buckeyes trailed 14-0 before they got a first down.
“We didn’t play well out of the gate,” Wilson said, “but it wasn’t because of him. It was play calling and execution.”
Barrett overcame the slow start by leading two touchdown drives in the second quarter. He got off to another slow start in the third quarter with two three-and-outs and then left the game after being tackled midway through the third quarter.
Barrett completed 3 of 8 passes for 30 yards and rushed 15 times for 67 yards. Haskins completed 6 of 7 passes for 94 yards and rushed three times for 24 yards.
There’s no question the Buckeyes would like to lean on Barrett with a Big Ten title on the line. He won the Big Ten’s Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year award on Thursday for the third time in four seasons.
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For Barrett, beating the Badgers would cap one of the great careers in conference history, especially considering he missed his only other chance to play in the title game. He broke his ankle in the Michigan game in 2014 and watched from the sideline as Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 victory a week later against Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes planned to limit the volume of Barrett’s snaps this week in practice, Wilson said. They need him as healthy and as mobile as possible on Saturday. The quarterback run is a critical part of Ohio State’s offense. Even with a sore knee, Barrett raced 21 yards for Ohio State’s first touchdown against Michigan.
Haskins, of course, looked much faster on his key run, a 22-yard rush to the Michigan 1-yard line that set up the go-ahead touchdown. If he gets any action against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes expect more of the same.
“That’s a great feeling because if you know anyone goes down again and Dwayne comes in, there won’t be a drop-off,” wide receiver K.J. Hill said.
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, 8 p.m., FOX, 1410