Coming off back-to-back 40-point games against Indiana and Minnesota, Smith and the OSU offense were sluggish in the first half against hapless Illinois on Saturday. Smith completed just 3 of his first 10 passes against the Illini and the Buckeyes went deep into the first half with just a 6-0 lead.
But Smith and the Buckeyes came alive just before the half, he hit a pair of clutch passes on a scoring drive – including a 41-yard touchdown to Santonio Holmes. Then, he was a perfect 8 of 8 for 193 yards and two touchdowns in the second half as the Buckeyes went on to crush the Illini 40-2.
"Early in the game I just came out kind of fidgety, on edge, not at ease at first," Smith said. "But after halftime, going in there, looking at the guys and understanding that no one is going to give up, it's a constant fight. We're going to be there four quarters.
"(Center) Nick Mangold said something to me in the locker room to just stay consistent, stay within the offense, and that really helped me out second half, coming out and completing a couple short passes, getting your rhythm going. Then, we stepped up and was able to hit a big play to Ted."
That big play was a 73-yard touchdown to Ginn late in the third quarter that put OSU ahead 33-2. It was a career-long play for Smith, eclipsing his 68-yard bomb to Anthony Gonzalez in last year's win over Michigan.
For the game, Smith was 13 of 21 for a career-best 298 yards with the three touchdowns. That moved past his 249-yard game against Michigan State.
The three touchdowns matched his career high. He has thrown for three touchdowns in three of OSU's last four games and now has 13 touchdowns for the year and 21 for his career.
Smith admitted he just was not on top of his game, misfiring on passes ahead of and behind his receivers early on.
"Game by game,players go through a little ritual that they do," Smith said. "Not to say that I didn't go through mine. But, early on, just -- just within the walk through the skull session …
"Through film study throughout the week, Illinois was going to do some different kind of things within coverage. Coach (Darrell) Hazell, Coach (Joe) Daniels and I, we sat in the film room plenty of times wondering what certain coverages were. When you see a coverage and you know what it's going to be, but then you see a guy that makes a mistake, it's like, you know, what's going on out there. So I see guys and I know where they're supposed to be and then sometimes they weren't where they're supposed to be, you know, they -- I guess they had their own agenda going on.
"That was why, first off, you know, and then Coach Tress calmed me down and told me we're just going to -- as opposed to alerting, we're going to go up there and run some of the plays so that's what we did the second half. We got up there and ran the plays, we were able to be on sync."
Tressel said that decision took a lot of guesswork away from Smith and allowed him to just focus on the play that was called.
"I think we did a lot more of the alerting, as we call it, a week ago," Tressel said. "We came in with some of that this week. But we decided, let's just call a pass or let's just call a run and you know sometimes you can take a little bit of edge off yourself by just standing there and waiting, so we just decided we're going to go up and throw it or go up and run it and be a little more decisive, but I think that helped. We might have created some indecision by trying to be too meticulous about what play we were going to run."
Smith discussed his early problems.
"I have to take most of the blame for that because within the offense, some of the things, you know, incomplete passes and things like that, I could have done a better job of getting the ball to the guys," he said. "You know, up front, I think the guys fought all game and finished it off second half."
Left guard Rob Sims said Smith was feeling some heat early that worked against him.
"That was more of our fault up front," Sims said. "We got some pressure on him early. Troy got pressure and everybody knows he's a scrambler. But we need to allow him to set his feet and throw a good ball. I think it was more on the offensive line than Troy. We put it together at the end and it was a good job by him and the receivers."
Center Nick Mangold added, "He came out and we didn't give him the protection we needed to give him. He's used to being safe back there. That's going to unnerve him a little bit and then to have some dropped balls, that hurts him a little bit. This just shows how great he is to put that first half behind him. He stepped up and did a great job."
Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman agreed that the offense may have come out to keyed up to begin the game.
"It was reflective of everybody," Bollman said. "Everybody was kind of out of sync in the first half. The protection leads to his performance. Or he has time and he rushes something. We all needed to settle down. In the second quarter, we settled down a little bit."
Perhaps the play that got Smith going came on third-and-10 from the OSU 35 late in the first half. Smith worked through his progressions and hit Gonzalez on a crossing route. Gonzalez sprinted across the field for an 11-yard gain and a first down.
"The thing about that particular play – and it's been a totally unfounded criticism that he has locked on to receivers," Gonzalez said. "On that play, I could see him go through the progressions. I was one of the later options. And it happened to be that I caught the pass and got the first down and it led to a nice scoring drive for us."
Dropping down to other receivers has not been Smith's forte, he admitted.
"I think it's becoming more of a complete quarterback, you know, within film study, that allows you to – to understand that two and three will come open once you stand back there and the line is going to do a great job of protecting you," Smith said. "When it's third and short, you know, that -- that sometimes is out the window, you've just got to make it happen so we can keep the drive going."
Four plays after the Gonzalez pass, Smith hit Santonio Holmes with a picture perfect out pass. Holmes juked his defender and got a block from Ginn to complete the 41-yard touchdown.
Smith and Holmes hooked up on a 3-yard touchdown early in the second half. Then, Holmes was almost a decoy as Ginn ran a go route and Smith hit him for the 73-yard touchdown.
"I think it starts off with protection," Smith said. "You know, the guys up front, you know, they did a good job of walling them off, you know. I was able to step up, Tone drew, the quarterback, Number 22, he drew him down, within the route and Ted just, you know, used his speed, got on top of the guy and made a play on the ball, but I do think it starts up front, everything starts up front."
Smith, who also carried seven times for 55 yards and was not sacked, said extra film study has been the key to his continued success.
"I think it's one being more comfortable within the offense," he said. "Again, another thing, you know, the guys starting to be a little more comfortable with me and also the coaching staff, so with all of that in hand, you're going to be able to see more guys, not just through, you know, a little tunnel vision, like I had early on through the season, but with more film study and things like that, you're going to see more things."
The extra film study was "suggested" by Tressel after a lackluster performance against San Diego State, Smith said.
"It came about after a game -- I think it was San Diego State," Smith said. "I think, I was threatened by Coach Tressel, to have mandatory film study. No, I wasn't threatened but he just let me know that some of the things he did in the past was a set, routine where daily, within your schedule, you come in and you watch film, and this helped tremendously. I think I owe it pretty much to that right now, because that's helping me become more of a complete quarterback."
Smith entered Saturday's game second only to Michigan State's Drew Stanton in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, and, with no interceptions against the Illini – and just three all year – that ranking figures to improve.
Gonzalez said Smith's on-field improvement has been apparent.
"He was very efficient," he said. "It was pretty impressive. That's what you come to expect from the guy. He is playing so well. He always lives up to my expectations."