On that play and
many others, OSU lined up in a five-receiver set. Such formations are thought
to be risky. Not, says Buckeyes right tackle Kirk Barton, if your quarterback
is Troy Smith. "We just have to block the five most dangerous
[rushers]," Barton, holding an unlit Cuban cigar, said afterward. Yes, that
often leaves a sixth rusher unblocked. Then it's up to Smith to unload the ball
before the defender unloads on him. For the third straight year the senior was
masterly against Michigan, completing 29 of 41 passes for 316 yards and those
Smith was sacked
once and hit hard half a dozen times. On Ohio State's first drive he was
leveled by Woodley, after which the two had a spirited exchange. On the next
play, a third-and-16, Smith made a different statement, snapping off a 27-yard
rope to wideout Roy Hall, who also caught the one-yard TD pass that capped the
Some years the
Heisman ceremony packs drama and suspense. This is not one of those years.
Smith had the trophy wrapped up by halftime, at which point he'd completed 21
of 26 passes for 241 yards and three scores. Even more jaw-dropping were the
Buckeyes' rushing numbers. Against a unit that had held Notre Dame to four
yards on the ground; that had bullied Penn State into the humiliating realm of
negative integers (the Nittany Lions ran for minus-14 yards); that had yielded
29.9 rushing yards per game, Ohio State netted those 187 yards.
On its heels on
account of Smith's aerial assault, the defense surrendered touchdown runs of 52
and 56 yards. On the first of those, said Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, freshman
Chris Wells "broke a tackle at the line, and everyone else was
blocked." The 56-yarder was the work of junior Antonio Pittman, who zoomed
behind, pulling left guard Steve Rehring, a 6'8", 329-pound sophomore who
noticed, upon hitting the hole, that "it was already wide enough for four
of me to fit in, so I knew Pitt was going to get through."
weren't finished. Trailing by two touchdowns at halftime, the team that had
spent this season watching vignettes from Cinderella Man lifted itself off the
canvas. With a little help from the home team. Michigan converted a pair of
third-quarter takeaways by Alan Branch (the junior defensive tackle intercepted
a pass, then recovered a muffed snap) into 10 points. Suddenly, with 14:41
left, it was a game--The Game--again.
A second botched
snap gave the Wolverines, down 35--31, a chance to take the lead. Instead, they
went three-and-out. Smith responded by directing an 11-play drive that ended
with the game-clinching touchdown.
That scoring pass
went to sophomore wideout Brian Robiskie, who struck a storklike pose while
making sure he got one foot down in the end zone on the 13-yard reception. One
of the key moments in the drive had come nine plays earlier. During a stoppage
in play, Buckeyes coaches decided to heed the advice of Bebe.
months or so, Tressel told SI after the game, "I get a nice letter from an
older lady from Akron. Her name is Bebe." In her most recent missive Bebe
wondered, according to Tressel, "what ever happened to that Statue of
Liberty play," which Ohio State had run with such success last season.
What indeed? At
last Thursday's staff meeting Tressel mentioned the letter, and he asked,
"What if we got the Statue of Liberty in this week?"
at his own 28, Smith whirled to his left, cocked his arm and followed through,
but where was the ball? It had been plucked from his hand by Pittman, who went
26 yards around right end.