Smith Ready For Road Test

Ohio State junior quarterback Troy Smith is beginning to settle into the role. Saturday's night tilt at Penn State will mark just the eighth start in Smith's college career. We caught up with Smith who discussed the Nittany Lions, OSU's offensive improvement, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Pittman and more.

There is a school of thought that the bye week fell at a bad time for Ohio State's offense. Just when the unit put together by far it's most impressive performance of the season in the 31-6 win over Iowa with 530 total yards of offense, it was time to take a week off.

But junior quarterback Troy Smith is not concerned that OSU lost some of the momentum that it gained from the Iowa game.

"No, I think it helps us tremendously physically," Smith said. "It helped us get into the cold tub and settle down and let some of the bumps and bruises heal, things like that. From that aspect, offensively, I think we're going to be OK. Come back out and execute the game plan that Coach Tress, Coach Bolls and Coach Daniels have assigned for us. I think all in all, the bye week pretty much helped us."

Smith was referring to head coach Jim Tressel, offensive line coach Jim Bollman and quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels. That group has been the target of criticism for less-than-imaginative play calling, but nothing will silence the detractors like rolling up over 500 yards of offense.

"I think things are turning around a little bit," Smith said. "Within the offense, some things still need to be straightened out, but all in all, I think everything is starting to come around. Eventually, not yet."

So, what are some of the things that OSU's offense still needs to straighten out?

"Timing, things like that," Smith said. "Getting the other team's schemes down and knowing what we want to do. The whole way around. Getting guys touches. Feeding (Antonio) Pittman the ball as much as we can." Getting Ted (Ginn) touches. Getting Santonio (Holmes) touches. Our third wide receiver is coming of age now. That's my guy: Tony Gonzalez. We've got to get Roy Hall some more touches. The whole way around. Ryan Hamby, we've got to get him the ball."

The Buckeyes will face Penn State Saturday in State College (7:45 p.m. ESPN). Smith watched PSU's 44-14 win over Minnesota last Saturday and came away extremely impressed with the Nittany Lions.

"Domination," Smith said. "When I watched that game, all I saw was total domination by Penn State. Hats off to them for that victory. Minnesota is a great team. They came in and they dominated. Played great defense the whole way around."

Penn State's offense is much improved, but the strength of its team is still defense. The same could be said about Ohio State.

"I think so," Smith said. "If you look at our past, it's been our defense that has held us together. So, got to give credit to the guys at Penn State on their defensive side of the ball, because they're shutting guys out. They're not letting them put points on the board, so that's keeping their offense in the game. I pretty much want to say that's the backbone of their team, but I can't take anything away from their offense. Because their offense can strike at any time."

Smith has also noticed that Penn State senior quarterback Michael Robinson is playing better this season.

"I think the thing that really got my attention is when their quarterback ran a full head of steam at Minnesota's safety and really gave him a good lick," Smith said. "That got my attention that's this is going to be a tough game, it's going to be a tough team and we better strap it up."

For Smith, it's almost like looking in the mirror when he sees Robinson.

"I'm a fan of his," Smith said. "Because he's doing great things at Penn State, leading them to victories. So, I've got nothing but love for him. Our games are kind of similar. With the respect that we can run, we can pass when we're given the opportunity. So, all in all I'm a big fan of it."

But Smith is a better passer than Robinson, right?

"I ain't saying nothing," Smith responded.

As for what to expect from OSU's offense against Penn State, Tressel usually becomes even more conservative than usual on the road. Smith knows he likely won't be asked to air it out.

"As far as whole team goes, we live by a little formula: Relentless defense, superior special units and mistake-free and opportunistic offense," Smith said. "When you research games, every time a team has taken care of business in those three categories, they've come out with a win."

The Nittany Lions' defense is a basic 4-3. They are talented, but they won't try and trick OSU with disguised formations and the like.

"In that aspect, I would say they're a little bit like Iowa," Smith said. "They're going to line up in what they're going to do and you've got to beat them. They've been that way and that's the way they are."

Saturday will mark OSU's first road game of the year. And what better way to jump in the fire than at night in Happy Valley in front of 107,000-plus rabid fans.

"It's going to be hostile," Smith warned. "It's going to be hostile."

In a noisy environment like Beaver Stadium, Smith was asked how much responsibility he feels in terms of keeping his teammates calm and organized.

"I feel a good amount," he said. "But I'm pretty much used to it because we've got one of the biggest stadiums in the country also. It comes with the territory and I welcome it."

In Smith's outstanding 300-yard performance against Iowa, the one downfall was his ball security, or lack thereof. He fumbled three times and lost one. If he's sloppy with the ball in Happy Valley, it could mean a loss for OSU.

"On the road, that part of the game is being raised even higher," Smith said. "You've got to protect the ball; got to protect the rock."

Smith was asked if it's important for OSU's offense to put together back-to-back good performances in order to establish some consistency.

"I think every week is important," he said. "Every week that we're able to come out and strap the shoulder pads on and put the scarlet and gray on is very important. Consistency is the key to success to me. So, being able to come out and be consistent with the offense I think is huge. The defense as well. If they come and have a shaky performance, then that gives you guys something else to write about. So, I think consistency is something that we all need to work on."

Junior receiver Santonio Holmes will likely be a first day NFL draft pick in April. Smith was asked how much it helps having a polished and explosive target like Holmes.

"Oh, it helps out a lot," he said. "Because within our offense, Santonio understands and recognizes things that you need a receiver to know. Things that you wouldn't expect a receiver to know, Santonio knows. So, that's just a bonus within his game. His smarts of the game, to me, is one of the keys that makes him one of the best receivers in the nation."

Smith has also been pleased with the play of OSU's offensive line. He says he needs his linemen to play well in order for him to play well.

"To me, a big part of my game is when the guys up front are feeling good and the game has slowed down and is simple for them, I think it slows down the game for myself," Smith said. "I think a lot of what I do relies on the guys up front. My five guys up front, if I don't have them on the same page, then we're not going to be a mistake-free, opportunistic football team."

Another improvement in OSU's offense this season has been the play of Pittman. Smith was asked what differences he has noticed in the sophomore tailback.

"I would have to say he's comfortable. He's comfortable," he said. "And I think comfort in any situation – as long as you don't have to look over your shoulder – you're able to get in and set your feet in and do what you do. And Pittman runs the ball with the best of them. As long as we get him the ball he's going to be OK."

Smith seems to thrive in big games. He was asked if he likes to "go out and get it" or if he likes to allow the game to come to him.

"Little bit of both," he said. "When the opportunity comes, you've got to be able to capitalize on it. But you can't force it at the same time. It's kind of a fine line that you've got to walk."

Smith is glad that Penn State is undefeated. It just adds to the intrigue and excitement of Saturday's showdown.

"Oh yeah," Smith said. "That's what I signed on the dotted line for was things like this. Looking forward to the game. And this rivalry is starting to come on. Year after year, I think it's becoming bigger and bigger. Especially with them having such a great year now. I think it's going to be a great game."

Finally, Smith was asked what makes Ginn such a dangerous player. He hasn't had his breakout game this season, but it seems to be only a matter of time.

"He's a fearless competitor. Fearless competitor," Smith said. "I remember time and time again watching him on the track. Whether we be down in the race, or ahead by 30 meters, he's giving it his all. We call it the ‘ugly face.' You know, he's got the ugly face on, he's pumping, he's pumping, he's pumping. And he's making it happen. He's got a helmet on when he's running with the football, but he's got the ugly face on then too."

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