Smith Takes 'Promotion' In Stride

Two quarterback systems never seem to work and Ohio State decided to scrap its two-QB situation this week and go with junior Troy Smith as the starter. Smith is excited for the opportunity, but is taking it in stride. We recently spoke with him about winning the job, what went wrong against Texas, where the Buckeyes will go from here and more.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel decided to end the controversy this week and make Troy Smith the Buckeyes' starting quarterback.

In the 25-22 loss to Texas last Saturday, OSU rotated Justin Zwick and Smith throughout the game and it appeared as though that might be the situation for much of the season.

However, looking for some stability at the position, Tressel wanted to pick one player and stick with him and Smith was given the nod.

There was a lot of uncertainty at QB in the Texas game. Most everyone – players, fans and media – had no idea how the quarterback snaps would be split up. Smith was asked if knowing he's the starter against San Diego State makes the situation easier for him.

"A little bit," he said. "I'm still not at ease with the performance of last week. Now I'm just trying to step up and lock everything down. Execution is a big part of this week's game and that's what we're striving for."

Smith was asked if he was surprised that the decision came so early in the season to go with one quarterback.

"No, I wasn't surprised," he said.

One of the major downfalls of a two-QB system is that it never lets one quarterback get into the rhythm of the game. As soon as a player is feeling comfortable, here comes the other QB under center.

When asked if he's relieved that there will not be a quarterback rotation any longer, Smith said: "Haven't thought about it that way. The staff obviously made a decision of what they wanted to do and we just need to get a win under our belt this Saturday."

But he does admit that it was difficult getting into a rhythm during the Texas game with all of the shuffling.

"Kind of. Kind of," Smith said. "But like I've said before, when an opportunity comes, you have to take advantage of it."

Being the starter, Smith will take roughly 85 percent of the practice reps with the first team this week.

"That means a lot for anybody who plays a position on the field," Smith said. "The more reps you get, the better off you will be. Sharing is OK – like I said, you have to make the best of your reps when you get it – but when you know the certainty that you're going to go, you're able to focus in a little bit more."

The Texas game was Smith's first game since his outstanding performance in OSU's 37-21 win over Michigan last November. He admits that missing two games affected his performance against Texas. Instead of knocking the rust off against Miami University, he had to do it against the No. 2 team in America.

"Tremendously," he said of the affect the layoff had on him. "It's timing, it's game-speed, it's the crowd, the whole nine. Tremendously."

Now as the starter, Smith feels he will only get better.

"The game will start to slow down a little more," he said.

Smith knows he could have played much better against the Longhorns. He didn't play bad, but didn't really do anything special.

"I always feel like I can do better with decision-making," he said. "Leading the team, I can always do better there. Just didn't do some of the things that we needed to do to pull the victory out.

"It's kind of bitter. Leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But, you have to understand that you have to take it one game at a time. The magnitude of the game, that's why it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But it's still one day, one game at a time."

The Buckeyes' have struggled in the red zone so far this season. And Smith says play-calling is not the problem. He says it's on the players to execute the plays that are called.

"That's exactly what it is: execution," he said. "We need to have a better understanding of execution. Understanding what we need to execute, when we need to execute and how we need to execute it to get it done, to get six points on the board."

Smith was asked what he would have done differently in the Texas game if he could do it all over again.

"I probably would have settled down a little more," he said. "Being that the game was as big as it was kind of gets your emotions flaring. Kind of would have sat back and took everything in stride and took it easy."

A lot of people have griped that Smith is too quick to take off with the ball and scramble. They say he doesn't stay the pocket long enough. But Smith says he did not scramble one time against Texas (not including sacks). He says all 11 of his rushing attempts were called QB draws from Tressel.

Smith was asked if he thinks he is more dangerous when a play breaks down and he needs to scramble, as opposed to a called QB run.

"I think I'm dangerous dropping back passing," he said without hesitation. "Haven't really thought about that. The line sets up to block the same every play. Whether it be blocking down, kick stepping, things like that, all of that is the same. It's just within myself to make the play."

But 11 called QB runs in two-and-a-half quarters is quite a bit.

"Yeah, but you've got to make plays," Smith said. "You've got to be happy when you get your number called."

Tressel and Smith have each mentioned that OSU needs to do a better job of getting the ball in the hands of its playmakers, like Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr. But it's hard to get the ball to the playmakers with so many quarterback keepers being called.

"We had ample opportunities to get the ball to the guys that we needed to," Smith said. "Whether it be on my part, where I made a bad decision to go somewhere else and I didn't get it to those guys, things like that. We have plays designed to get it to those guys."

Like the fans and the media, Smith is a bit perplexed that a player like Ginn would only touch the ball three times in a big game like Texas.

"I can't tell you," Smith said.

But how can the Buckeyes get Ginn the ball more?

"Keep calling the plays that we're calling," Smith said.

A few of Texas' defensive backs mentioned that Ginn is not a polished receiver and does not run good routes. Smith bristled at those comments.

"I don't care what they say," he said. "It doesn't bother me. Obviously he's doing something right. I think he runs great routes. I think all of our receivers run great routes. What someone else says doesn't bother me at all."

Smith had a conversation with Ginn after one of his drops on Saturday. It looked like a big brother scolding his sibling.

"Yeah," Smith said. "Just trying to get him to understand that, ‘We need to get the ball to you.' Whether it be a little flair pass, anything. But on that designed play, it was a misread on my part. I should have went elsewhere and he wasn't looking. He was trying to be a decoy to set up something else. So, that was my fault."

Now that the national championship might or might not be off the table, there is more of a focus on OSU winning its first outright Big Ten championship since 1984.

"Yeah, we've got to get that done," Smith said. "We've got to get one of those banners up here. That's huge. Being able to win it outright is huge. It's hard enough to even get a share of the Big Ten title. So, for it to be outright, that would be real big."

But before the Big Ten season begins, Smith and the Buckeyes will have to deal with a San Diego State team that would like nothing more than to pull the upset.

Smith has been impressed with what he has seen from the Aztecs' defense on film.

"Fast. Fast and aggressive," he said. "All eleven guys have motors that don't stop running. They're going to come in here with energy and try and make something happen."

To a man, Ohio State's players seem pleased with the decision to make Smith the starter.

"I like his confidence," center/captain Nick Mangold said. "I like his will to win. He's always out there to win. I'm excited about having him out there. I think he will do real well with that and run with that leadership role. He should take that to a new level."

Mangold was impressed with the way Smith handled the role at the end of the 2004 season.

"It was the way he carried himself," Mangold said. "It was his confidence level. He came in and did well physically. You could tell mentally, spiritually and emotionally he was in there. He wanted to win. He had a love for the guys who were in there. He wanted to do things to the best of his ability."

Senior guard/captain Rob Sims is relieved that the Buckeyes have one quarterback that they can turn to, as opposed to a rotation.

"I think it's very important," Sims said. "I think having one guy we can hang our hat on is good for the rest of the season. I've never second-guessed Coach Tressel because he's made so many good decisions in the past. So, I'm excited about the decision he made."

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