Smith had become the toast of Columbus. His move into the starting lineup for the Indiana game helped stem a three-game losing streak. The Buckeyes had won his first three starts as the signalcaller with Smith showing poise and presence in each game.
Then, there was Ginn, the ultra talented freshman who was believed to be the first OSU player since Keith Byars to score touchdowns three different ways in last week's dramatic 32-19 win at Michigan State.
On Saturday at Purdue, OSU coach Jim Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman largely put the game in the hands of Smith and Ginn. Smith operated out of the shotgun a great deal and also ran the option. OSU even tweaked its formation a bit, moving slot man Ginn back off the line of scrimmage so he could figure as a receiver as well as a runner as needed.
The results were mixed. Smith ended up as OSU's leading rusher with 62 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He also completed 14 of 29 passes for 192 yards with a touchdown. But the bad news were his three interceptions – two of which went off his receivers' hands – and an errant option pitch to tailback Antonio Pittman at the Purdue 5-yard line that denied OSU a scoring chance.
Ginn came up big with a 28-yard gain on a reverse. But with OSU trailing by a touchdown late, he had a Smith slant pass glance off his hands and go right to Purdue linebacker Stanford Keglar with 1:35 left. When Purdue succeeded in picking up a first down with its offense, the game was over.
Afterwards, Tressel talked about Smith's play.
"He probably had more opportunities to make decisions in this particular game," Tressel said. "As they go back, all starting quarterbacks will find they will have a rocky day. You wish it would not come. But Troy will learn from this."
Tressel indicated that Smith, indeed, would remain the starter for next Saturday's game with Michigan, even though former starter Justin Zwick has rehabbed his shoulder injury and seems ready to return to action.
The coach also looked back on Ginn's hard day at the office.
When asked if Ginn was trying to do too much, Tressel replied, "Probably. Ted has done a pretty darn good job as a freshman making plays. He is a competitor and he wants to make plays. He probably started running before he caught that one."
Smith's first interception went through the hands of freshman receiver Devon Lyons to Purdue's George Hall. The third-quarter pick changed field position, but did not lead to any points.
He came back two series later and led OSU on a six-play, 66-yard scoring march for its first touchdown. He capped that drive with a 7-yard pass to Pittman, a 15-yarder to the rarely used Lyons and a 30-yard touchdown to a diving Santonio Holmes. That cut the Purdue lead to 17-10.
Later in the quarter, he found Roy Hall for a 41-yard catch-and-run down to the Purdue 18. But on the first play of the fourth quarter – facing third-and-7 at the Purdue 15 – Smith underthrew Holmes on a fade pass. The ball was thrown into double coverage and easily intercepted by Purdue's Brian Hickman.
"I should have put the ball in a different place," Smith said.
OSU was back in business after defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock intercepted a pass by Purdue's Brandon Kirsch. A Ginn 28-yard run on a reverse put the Buckeyes in position again at the Purdue 8. But on third-and-goal at the Purdue 6, Smith headed left on an option. He tried to cut the ball back, but was hit and attempted a pitch to Pittman. The pitch was hard to handle and fell to the ground, where Purdue's Bernard Pollard recovered it.
"At worst, we could have gotten three points there," Smith said. "I should have just tucked it and kept it. I am going to make decisions and make mistakes. You're just going to have to live with it sometimes."
Resilient as ever, Smith came back and hit Anthony Gonzalez for 38 yards on a crossing route. That play gave OSU a first down at the Purdue 6. On third-and-goal from the 5, Smith again went left. But this time he did not need to make a pitch. He had just enough of a crease to cut back and get to the goal line as he crashed into a collection of Purdue defenders. The touchdown tied the game at 17-17 with 3:50 left.
"I felt comfortable running the option," Smith said. "My hats are off again to my guys up front. They fought and that's all I can ask of them. We just came up a little bit short today."
Purdue answered with a touchdown drive to take the lead for good, but the Buckeyes did get one more chance with the ball. On second-and-2 from the OSU 33, Smith threw the slant to Ginn. He had first down yardage, but lost his concentration. The ball glanced off his hands right to Keglar for the game-clinching interception.
For his part, Smith talked about how he will file this game.
"I leave here feeling, first and foremost, that we didn't get a chance to get the win," Smith said. "But I also get the sense that when we get up and get going with our offense, I feel we can compete with anybody in the Big Ten or in the country.
"Personally, I am upset at myself. I had a couple of turnovers where I should have put the ball in better places."
Bollman also assessed Smith's play.
"In those situations, you always look at the things that don't work out," Bollman said. "But he made some very big plays to put us in those situations in the first place. He hit some big passes, particularly in the second half. He picked the offense up in the second half and got us in gear."
Getting Ginn Involved
OSU unveiled a new wrinkle with Ginn. They used him as a slot receiver, but in some formations he was as far as 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage. That allowed OSU to utilize him as a receiver or as a potential runner in the option game.
"We did that to come up with some different ways to get Ted the ball," Smith said. "We didn't hit them as clean as we would have liked. My hat's off to Purdue for the job they did."
"It's nothing special," Ginn added. "It's just something they put in during the week."
It didn't matter where Ginn lined up, though, as Purdue came after him early and often. He ended up with three catches for 7 yards and two rushes for 47 yards. The Boilers also negated his impact on special teams, limiting Ginn to an average of 11.5 yards on two punt returns.
"A lot of teams key on me," Ginn said. "They were pointing out where I was. It's not really a compliment. It just says I'm a play maker. You have to point out the play makers at all times."
Ginn said it took a lot for the Buckeyes, down 17-3 after managing just 108 yards and three first downs in the first half to rally and tie the score.
"We played hard," Ginn said. "We came out in the second half and just digged deep. We went out and played our hearts out."
A week earlier, Ginn caught a late slant pass from Smith to help steal the win at MSU. But the same play this week had disastrous results.
"I think it was set up for us to get the first down and get in good range and maybe do some things with it," Ginn said. "But I took my eyes off of it and we couldn't do much with it. That turned the game around.
"We're all out there trying to make that big play."
Ginn admitted the turnover hurts a bit.
"It's hard on me," he said. "I don't like to lose football games. We've just to get over it and get ready for next week."