Cook: Smith strikes Heisman pose

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- They have no gripe in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn has had a fabulous season, but not like this.

They don't have a complaint in Morgantown, W.Va., either. West Virginia fans long will argue -- with some justification -- that Mountaineers running back Steve Slaton is the best all-around player in America, but they can't moan when he doesn't get the Heisman Trophy.

That's going to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith.

They should have given him the thing at halftime of the Michigan game yesterday instead of making him wait until Dec. 9.

Smith put the Buckeyes into the Jan. 8 national championship game -- etching himself deeper into Ohio State lore in the process -- with a performance that will have young Ohio children wearing a No. 10 Buckeyes jersey and dreaming of being a football hero. He threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns as No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan, 42-39, in a game that exceeded its massive hype and will lead some to scream for a rematch in the national title game.

No rematch, please.

Let another team's defense try to contain Smith.

Michigan's highly regarded unit had no chance.

That came as no surprise, really. Smith has made a great career of torching Michigan, leading the Buckeyes to three consecutive wins in the most intense rivalry in sports for the first time in more than 40 years.

In 2004, Smith ran for 145 yards and threw for 241 in a 37-21 win. Last season, he threw for 300 yards and led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in a 25-21 comeback win. And yesterday? He played an almost perfect first half and survived a couple of toe stubs in the second half to throw the clinching touchdown pass -- his school-record 30th of the season -- a 13-yard dart to wide receiver Brian Robiskie with 5:38 left after taking a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit from Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable three plays earlier.

"I've said all along his No. 1 quality is his toughness," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "You can't be a championship quarterback -- what I think is an All-American quarterback -- without being tough. He is that."

Soon, Smith will be your 2006 Heisman winner.

"I don't think there's any question about it," Tressel said. "I think he's the best player in the country."

Smith was brilliant from the start yesterday, answering Michigan's game-opening touchdown drive by leading one of his own. He completed 9 of 11 passes for 68 yards and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Roy Hall.

Later in the first half, Smith gave Ohio State a 21-7 lead by throwing a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. The play was set up by his tremendous fake to running back Chris Wells.

Smith built the Buckeyes' halftime edge to 28-14 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez. He accounted for all of the yards in that 80-yard scoring drive in the final 2:28 of the second quarter by completing 8 of 9 passes.

And you wonder why no one is happier that Smith will be leaving Ohio State after the national championship game than Michigan coach Lloyd Carr? Thanks in large part to Smith, Carr is 1-5 against Tressel and, much to his regret, will spend the next 365 days hearing about it.

At Ohio State, on the other hand, they're going to have a much harder time dealing with Smith's departure.

Who could have guessed Smith would turn out to be this kind of player? Early in his career, he thought about transferring because Tressel wanted him to play wide receiver. There would be run-ins with the university over missed classes, with the law because of a bar fight and with the NCAA because he accepted $500 from a booster. Smith overcame it all to become what will be a very deserving Heisman winner.

"It's a team award," Smith insisted last night. "You can be the most fabulous, electrifying player in the country and, if your team loses two or three games, you're out of it. That's why I say it's a team award."

Smith credited those same teammates with keeping him going in the second half after he threw an interception -- just his fifth of the season -- and lost a fumble on a high snap in the shotgun. Those turnovers led to 10 Michigan points.

Smith made sure the mistakes didn't cost Ohio State the game with that touchdown throw to Robiskie.

"There was no way I was going to get down for one second," Smith said. "Everybody kept telling me that the team basically reacts to how I react. I was constantly reminded on the sideline, 'We follow you.' "

All the way to a 12-0 record and an outright Big Ten Conference championship.

All the way to Glendale, Ariz., to play for the national championship.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.


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