Smith won't let up

Brad Smith's maturity is evident. He knew when to unload passes, get out of bounds, slide for first downs...all of the things you hope quarterbacks will do to stay in one piece. But on one important third down and goal, the old Brad Smith emerged, and we all held our breath.

Tiger fans hope the scariest play of the season has already happened.

Quarterback Brad Smith took the snap, with the Tigers threatening from the 4-yard line. He looked, and he found nothing open. Then, as he does often, Smith tucked the ball and sprinted toward the right end zone marker.

But the Illinois defenders had him trapped, and with no running lane, Smith tried to leap over them. The result was a head-over-heels dive, and a collision with several Illini.

Then there was the wait...

Smith jumped up and signaled touchdown, but he was ruled out at the one. Zack Abron would score on the next play, which was fourth down, but many hearts didn't start beating again until well afterwards.

"Yeah, I was pretty scared," A.J. Ricker said. "I don't know what he's doing. He apparently learned how to fly, so that's pretty good."

On many plays in Saturday's 22-15 win against Illinois, Smith looked like he had become a more cautious and careful runner. Rather than try to break a herd of tacklers, Smith was sliding to avoid more collisions.

"He was better at that," coach Gary Pinkel said. "He'd get that first down and then go down, so I was really pleased with that."

But on that one play, Smith threw caution to the wind. Seven points was simply too important to the team at that point.

"That's Brad being Brad," receiver Sean Coffey said. "He's such a competitive guy that he's not going to be denied. He's willing to risk everything for that one touchdown, because that one touchdown could put us ahead and keep us ahead."

But Smith got the Tigers the win, and to him, Pinkel and everyone else, that's more than enough.

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