Smith, a third-year sophomore from Cleveland, has bided his time as classmate Justin Zwick's backup this season. But when Zwick went down with a shoulder injury in last week's 33-7 loss at Iowa, it was Smith who came in to finish that game. He led the Buckeyes to a late scoring drive, throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Rory Nicol to avert the shutout.
That set the stage for this week. Zwick was unable to practice full-go and OSU head coach Jim Tressel named Smith as the starter. The Buckeyes, sitting at 0-3 in conference play, desperately needed a win.
And it was Smith who helped lead the charge to OSU's first Big Ten win – and first win of any kind since the Sept. 18 victory at N.C. State – as the Buckeyes disposed of Indiana 30-7 Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Smith, who had only thrown 17 passes all season, looked fairly sharp in the win over Indiana. He was 12 of 24 passing for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He also netted 58 yards on 11 rushing attempts and was sacked just once.
"This is the team I have been playing with all year," Smith said. "Those are my guys. So regardless of whether this was my first start or my 20th start, we're all good friends. I feel real good about that.
"I didn't feel any pressure. I knew once I was out there I had to play within myself and not try to prove anything to anybody. I had to play for the team."
Smith said he was able to sleep peacefully on the eve of his first start.
"I slept good," he said. "Santonio Holmes was my roommate. We just talked about some of the things we wanted to do today."
Tressel was asked to assess Smith's play.
"I think Troy played with a lot of confidence," Tressel said. "I think he knew most all of the time what was going on around him, what he needed to do. The best thing, you've heard us say for 100 years, doesn't matter who the coach is, you can't turn the ball over. We didn't.
"At the same time, you've got to come up with some plays, and he did. He got some good balance from his run game, so I thought he obviously played with the type of velocity we needed to win the game, and it was great to see."
Earlier in the week, Tressel told reporters he still considered Zwick to be OSU's starter. After the game, the coach was asked if he could project whether Smith or Zwick would start next week's game with Penn State.
"I haven't given it much thought, and the thought would begin, I suppose, with two things happening," Tressel said. "One, we need to see how medically Justin is coming along and, two, obviously you study the film and study the practice that we're getting ready to have starting tomorrow. But when you said might he? I guess it would be not fair to say absolutely he would not, but we haven't given it much discussion or thought.
"I really don't know the medical situation. I don't think Justin could have gone today, and so I'll have to see that day-by-day."
Smith was asked to assess his overall performance.
"I think I did pretty good," he said. "As a whole, my team did great, though. My guys in front of me, if I could give them a grade, I'd give them a 90 percent. They would get an A.
"I missed some reads today. I probably didn't do as well as I would have wanted to do … but you're going to make mistakes. Every game is not going to be flawless. Some games seem flawless, but there are a lot of things between the nooks and crannies that get messed up."
The quarterback talked about the feeling of finally winning a game.
"It was like pandemonium (in the locker room)," he said. "That monkey was on our back. We were back doing the things we need to do – running the ball and setting up the pass."
Smith was asked about his ability to run the ball.
"That's important because it can keep some drives alive," he said. "You step up and throw or you step up and go. Coach Tressel always explains that to us and let's us know. When you step up, you tuck it and try to get as much as you can.
"It felt good to be able to have that ability and step up in those situations."
Smith opened the game by throwing deep to Roy Hall. The pass was incomplete, but it was one of at least three deep passes the Buckeyes attempted early in the game.
"We were trying to deliver a message to ourselves that we have the ability to go deep when we want to," he said.
The Good and The Bad
Less than two minutes into the game, Smith struck for his first touchdown as he and his former Cleveland Glenville teammate, Ted Ginn Jr., hooked up on a 59-yard catch-and-run. The pass was tipped by an IU defender, but Ginn recovered to catch it. He then eluded a tackler, turned inside, eluded another and was gone down the right sideline to complete the electrifying touchdown.
"That shows what can happen when we get the ball into the hands of our play makers," Smith said. "Ted Ginn Jr. is another one of them. If we can get the ball to Santonio Holmes, he can do the same thing."
Smith admits he tempted fate by throwing the pass.
"I just thought it was going to be broken up," Smith said. "If he had intercepted it, I would have had to track him down and take it back away from him. But Ted's concentration allowed him to get the ball and he took full advantage of it."
OSU pushed the lead to 14-0 on its next possession as, on third-and-goal from the 5, OSU spread the field with four wide receivers. Smith stood in under blitz pressure and hit Holmes, the far receiver on the right side, quickly for the touchdown.
"The line did a great job in handling the blitz," Smith said. "Indiana is a high blitz team, percentage-wise, down in the red zone. We thought we could take advantage of some of the things they were doing down in the red zone and Santonio made a great play on the ball."
If there were two passes Smith would like back, they would probably be a deep pass to Holmes in the end zone and a crossing route to Anthony Gonzalez that could have also been a score.
"The deep pass I threw to Santonio in the corner, that was a sure touchdown," Smith said. "He was just so wide open. I wanted to get it to him as quickly as possible."
What They're Saying
Smith's teammates were impressed with the way he handled his first start.
"He led our team and won the game for us," said his close friend Holmes. "He is a quarterback who brings scrambling ability to the team. He has a niche for getting out of the pocket. He opens up the offense when we are in trouble."
Ginn was also glad to see his good friend and former prep teammate come through in his first big opportunity.
"Troy is like my big brother and I am so happy for him," Ginn said. "I thought he played very well today."
Team co-captain Mike Nugent added, "Troy does a good job. He looked really good out there. He did well for a guy who hadn't played a lot."
Offensive tackle Rob Sims said Smith brings an added dimension as a strong runner when plays break down.
"When Troy gets beyond the line of scrimmage, it's going to get real nasty," Sims said. "Hopefully, he can keep going like that in the weeks to come.
"Troy's a fiery guy. He got in there and got after everybody from the jump. We got out there and got the job done. I think Troy is a good leader and a good all around athlete. He got the job done. He and I are pretty good friends. It was fun to see him out there."
So Who's Starting?
Smith was asked if he views himself as a leader: "Oh, yeah. As a quarterback, you've got to be."
Reporters queried Smith about whether he feels he deserves to start.
"The situation I'm in now, the coaches will make that decision," he said. "I'm out here trying to do the best I can for the team and the team only. The team is something bigger. When we were 0-3, it wasn't just Troy Smith 0-3. The team was 0-3. We came out here today and did the things we needed to do to get the W.
"I'm not trying to sway (the coaches) either way. Let's talk about today. Today we did some positive things.
"I feel as if we need to go out next week against Penn State and do the things we need to do."
Will it be hard to go back to being a backup if need be?
"Today was a team effort, today was a team win, I'm a team player, so it's always going to be the same way," he said. "It's all about the team."
And, for good measure, Smith was asked one more time if he expects to start against the Nittany Lions.
As tactful as ever, his reply: "I expect for Tressel's decision to be as good as it's been."