On Saturday at Michigan, though, Smith moved toward legendary status. He directed a pair of touchdown drives – one 67 yards and the other 88 – in the final 7:49 as Ohio State rallied for a 25-21 win in The Game.
"He has composure and he believes in himself," said OSU coach Jim Tressel, who improved to 4-1 against Michigan. "He knows he can do the job. He also knows that things don't always go right, but he stays in there. He enjoys moving his team down the field and he does it with a lot of passion.
"We just need to get the plays in faster … because I get tonguelashings (from Smith) the whole game," the coach added jokingly.
Over those final two drives – when his team needed him most – Smith was a sparking 9 of 12 passing for 130 yards. On the day, he ended up 27 of 37 for a career-high 300 yards with one touchdown.
"He was outstanding," said split end Santonio Holmes, whose 26-yard touchdown catch with 6:40 left got the comeback started. "He sat in the pocket and delivered the ball where it needed to be. Our guys made the catches that they needed to."
Smith, who also had a 4-yard touchdown run on OSU's first series of the game, said it was important for him to give everything he had for the seniors.
"It really hit me how we had to send those seniors out of here," Smith said. "Eddie George came in here today and gave us some words of encouragement. He talked about how this game is a battle. This game is a war. It comes down to the last second and we lived that today. Every guy who got on the field and played today played their heart out."
Sometimes it takes adversity to get the best out of a person. That could be the case with Smith, who had to serve a two-game suspension for taking illegal extra benefits after last year's win over Michigan. That suspension forced Smith to take a deeper look and rededicate himself to his teammates. He became a fixture in the film room.
On Saturday, all of that extra work paid off.
"I sat back and I had to think about what I owe to my guys, my whole team," Smith said. "I owe it to them to become the quarterback and everything they need me to be on the field. That's the understanding where they don't have to think twice whether Troy Smith is going to be there for them.
"I think it's just knowing and understanding that every play does not need to be made with your feet. As a quarterback, you need to slow the game down and come up to the line with the understanding of what they want to do."
Those touchdown drives helped lift Smith – now 12-2 as OSU's starting quarterback – into the pantheon of OSU quarterbacks who have led teams to Big Ten championships. He also joins a select few OSU signalcallers who directed two wins over Michigan. That group includes names like Craig Krenzel, Art Schlichter, Cornelius Greene, Rex Kern and very few others.
The final drive was reminiscent of OSU's come-from-behind 20-17 win over Arizona State in the Rose Bowl, where Joe Germaine led the Buckeyes on a 65-yard scoring march for the winning touchdown with 20 seconds left.
Overall, the win could go down as OSU's most dramatic one over Michigan in Ann Arbor in three decades, dating to a 21-14 triumph in 1975 when Greene directed a late scoring march and Ray Griffin intercepted a pass to set up Pete Johnson's even later game winning touchdown run.
Smith said OSU's late heroics were due to proper preparation.
"We stayed within the game plan and didn't get out of the things that we like to do," he said. "I want to give all of the props and respect to the guys up front. They are everything. Without those guys, this couldn't have happened today."
He was asked if this win eclipsed last year's upset in Columbus.
"Yeah, it really is better," he said. "I live in the present. It's about what's going on now, not what happened last year. We handled adversity today."
Smith and the Buckeyes did a fine job of bouncing back from a 3-2 start to their season. Since the loss at Penn State, OSU has now won six straight.
"We weren't down in the dumps after Penn State," said Smith, who had a key interception and fumble in that game. "We just had an understanding that we didn't do everything we needed to do to win that day. Today, everybody's spirits were up with the understanding that we had to get win."
Smith lost a fumble in Saturday's game, a miscue that UM converted into points in building its 21-12 lead. But he came back from that to lead the team down the stretch.
"You could look at his eyes and tell he was ready," said OSU's Andree Tyree, a seldom used fifth-year senior who made a splash as a blocking tight end. "We knew we had to follow him and he was going to lead us the right way."
For the second year in a row, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr had to give Smith his due.
"I thought he threw the ball awfully well," Carr said. "I thought we did some very good things. Yet, with five minutes to go, they put two great drives together. That made the difference."
Smith may have made a strong case to be named as the All-Big Ten first-team quarterback later this week. For the year, he has now thrown for 1,940 yards and 14 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He has also rushed for 545 yards and 11 scores on the year. In his career, Smith's touchdown-to-interception ratio is now a rather tidy 22-to-8.
"Troy was amazing," said OSU split end Ted Ginn Jr., Smith's old Cleveland Glenville teammate and a recipient of nine Smith passes on Saturday. "To come down with three minutes left and complete the balls that he threw. He made things happen when things weren't there. He showed a lot of character, he showed a lot of leadership and he played well."
Ohio State trailed 21-19 when it got the ball back after a Michigan pooch punt went out of bounds at the OSU 12 with 4:18 left.
"I just reminded them that we worked real hard this year to get to the point where we could be in a good bowl game and win a Big Ten title," Smith said of his words to the offense prior to the final drive. "We didn't want to slip up now. This is what we all came to Ohio State for, for games like this."
Here is a play by play look at what happened on what would become the game-winning touchdown drive:
* First-and-10, OSU 12 -- Smith rolled out right and hit Ginn for a 9-yard gain at the 21. UM's Leon Hall made the stop.
* Second-and-1, OSU 21 -- Pittman carried for 2 yards and a first down at the 23. UM defensive end Pierre Woods made the stop.
* First-and-10, OSU 23 -- Smith threw over the middle to Anthony Gonzalez incomplete.
* Second-and-10, OSU 23 -- Smith spun away from Woods and threw to Ginn near the right sideline for an 11-yard gain and a first down at the 34.
"I was just trying to keep the play alive, knowing that we couldn't have a sack," Smith said of his move away from Woods.
* First-and-10, OSU 34 -- Smith threw left to Ginn, who made a one-handed grab for 6 yards to the 40. UM's Hall made the stop.
* Second-and-4, OSU 40 -- Smith threw left to Holmes for an 8-yard gain and a first down at the 48. The clock, now down to 2:24 after this play, was starting to become a factor.
* First-and-10, OSU 48 -- Smith went to Holmes on the slant for a 10-yard gain and a first down at the Michigan 42. UM's Grant Mason made the stop. The clock read 1:58 when the ball was spotted for play and wound with the play clock.
* First-and-10, Michigan 42 -- Smith kept the ball on a quarterback draw and got 5 yards down to the 37. UM's Brandent Englemon made the stop and the clock kept rolling down toward the 1:00 mark.
* Second-and-5, Michigan 37 -- Smith threw right complete to Holmes for a 7-yard gain and a first down at the 30. UM's Mason went for the interception and missed, but he managed to save a big gain by stopping Holmes. OSU called timeout with 48 seconds left.
* First-and-10, Michigan 30 -- The Buckeyes were now within Josh Huston's field goal range, but they wanted more. Smith rolled out to his right, avoided a sack and threw down to Gonzalez, who made a leaping catch over Mason at the UM 4. On the play, Gonzalez appeared to be re-routed out of bounds by Mason. Michigan called timeout with 37 seconds left.
"It was a basic scramble drill type thing," Tressel said. "He and Troy did a good job of getting eye contact. He got the ball out there. Gonzo has good hands and I assume he caught it. My reaction was I was happy."
Smith added, "A guy came off the edge. We have all kind of drills where it's about staying alive and keeping your feet. I just tried to keep that realm. I saw Gonzalez pop open. A lot of people don't know but Gonzalez is one of the fastest guys on our team. He got open down the sideline.
"We run a drill where we try to throw the ball vertical and let the receiver make a play. I just tried to add all of those elements into that play. He went up and made a great play and high pointed the ball."
During the timeout, the OSU offensive line huddled by itself and got in the right frame of mind.
"We just said, ‘We've got to get this in there,' " said right tackle Kirk Barton.
On the sideline, members of the defense were beside themselves.
"I was holding Donte Whitner and Erik Haw's hand," said linebacker Anthony Schlegel. "I wouldn't let them leave. Donte had to run off to talk about the last drive on defense. I was like, ‘Get back over here. I don't want to jinx it.' They were rolling and everybody was holding hands. Everybody was backing the offense.
"There was a difference between this and 2003. The sideline was into it and we never lost hope. We came out with the victory today."
* First-and-Goal, Michigan 4 -- Smith kept the ball and ran right for 1 yard. UM's Willis Barringer made the stop at the 3. Michigan called its final timeout with 29 seconds left.
* Second-and-Goal, Michigan 3 -- Pittman took a handoff and went left behind guard T.J. Downing. He bounced off UM's Englemon at the 2 and then darted outside off blocks by tight end Andree Tyree and fullback Stan White Jr. to break free and score on the 3-yard touchdown drive to put OSU up 25-21 with 24 seconds left.
Tressel revealed that he would have just as soon settled for a field goal to win it.
"We would have rather had the touchdown, obviously," he said. "But we ran a play such that the ball would be centered for a field goal or score. Troy told the official we would take a timeout with five seconds left if we didn't score."
But Pittman had other ideas.
"What can I say?" Pittman said. "I wanted to get into the end zone. Six is better than three. I'm confident in Josh (Huston), but I'm confident in my feet, too."
* PAT -- OSU went for the two-point conversion, but Smith's slant pass to Ginn fell incomplete.
All that was left to do was for the defense to keep Michigan from going 80 yards in 24 seconds.
After what they had witnessed, safety Donte Whitner said that was never going to happen.
"I was thinking something magical was going on," Whitner said. "Ted had three catches on that drive. He was bobbling it every time he caught it. Then he had one where he caught it one-handed on the sideline. Then there was the one to Gonzo. The last play where we got into the end zone, Pittman ran over two guys to get in there."
Pittman put the praise back on Smith, though.
"I think he's a great leader," Pittman said. "He came out there and proved it on that final drive. It was a crazy pass and Gonzo caught it. To come out there and be confident on the final drive at Michigan, that's huge. He ran the ball well and threw the ball on the run. He led us down the field."
Tressel was asked if a legend was born with Smith's latest conquering of the Maize and Blue.
"There will be a lot of youngsters watching and out there in the yard on Thanksgiving making that same move that he made and getting open in the pile of leaves," the coach said. "That's the best part of football at this time of year."