Smith Exceeding Expectations At Midway Point

Troy Smith was expected to have a huge season for Ohio State. But at the midway point of the season, he's playing even better than most people imagined. Smith's touchdown-to-interception ratio is extremely impressive, as is his completion percentage. We caught up with him earlier this week for his thoughts on the season thus far and more.

Expectations were high for Troy Smith entering the season. Some were already touting him as Ohio State's best quarterback of all time.

And midway through the season, it's safe to say that Smith isn't just living up to hype, he's exceeding it.

The 6-1, 215-pound senior is 101-for-148 passing (68.2 percent) for 1,261 yards, with 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Smith is a confident guy, so it's hard to imagine he has exceeded his own personal expectations. But he was asked to evaluate his play after six weeks.

"I guess one of the ways I'd evaluate it is even though there are some positive things that have happened thus far, there's always room for improvement, any which way you cut it," he said. "Receivers are making catches on balls behind them or over them and those things don't get written. All it says in the paper is first-down completion. The little things, I can get better at."

Of all of Smith's skills, his accuracy might be the most impressive. His arm strength is also one of his best assets, but it's hard to top a 68.2 percent completion percentage.

"Along the lines of me playing quarterback, I've never had a problem with placement of the ball," Smith said. "A lot of times I might throw the ball a little bit too hard and things like that. But I have a staff here that has helped me along the way tremendously in (quarterbacks coach Joe) Daniels, (offensive coordinator Jim) Bollman and (head coach Jim) Tressel. I can just grow and grow and grow as long as I listen and stay obedient."

Smith is the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and he was asked if he ever allows himself to daydream about winning the Heisman and what that would mean for him and the program.

"First of all, I don't. I try not to think about it," he said. "I'd be lying if I told you I don't sit at home and think about taking that trip to those award places and being announced as a winner of some of them. But, that's neither here nor there. Right now is Michigan State and right now is the season. Right now is these seniors. I can't allow myself to go overboard and think about things that are just myself because without my team I wouldn't be up for the running of any of that. So, it's about my team first."

The top-ranked Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) will face off against Michigan State (3-3, 0-2) in East Lansing on Saturday (3:40 p.m., ABC). Smith knows that the Spartans are reeling, but he is not overlooking them.

"They are on sort of the landslide that we were on a couple years ago and we just had it set in our minds that we weren't going to lose again," he said. "And I know they've got great seniors and I know they're thinking and feeling the same way."

One of those seniors is quarterback Drew Stanton, Smith's good friend from their high school days.

"Oh, it's a great relationship," Smith said. "Drew Stanton is a first-class guy and a warrior through and through and I know when we play them he is going to give us his all. My hat goes off to him anytime we get a chance to play him and I can't begin to express the way I feel about him because he's a great person."

Smith and Stanton met at the Elite 11 quarterbacks camp in 2001.

"He was my roommate at the Elite 11," Smith said. "Night in and night out that was the guy I was looking at. Practicing and warming up with him at the Elite 11 and it was a great experience for both of us. Obviously it paid off."

Smith and Stanton usually talk every week.

"Oh yeah, talk to him all the time," Smith said. "Talked to him this week. And when we talk, it's not about the game. It's more along the lines of, ‘How are you doing? What else is going on in your life?' We don't need somebody else to talk about football."

Smith understands the history of the OSU-MSU series and knows that the Spartans have pulled off their share of upsets, such as 1998. But Smith doesn't seem too concerned that history will repeat itself.

"It's definitely a eye-opening thing and it's going to be something that… to get anywhere in the future you have to know your past," Smith said. "But, you know, that's college football. You can look back through the course of a whole lot of games and see a lot of things that go on.

"But the thing that's different now is it's a whole different group of guys. I don't know if those teams that lost in the past – and to me I'm kind of biased when I say it – had this group of seniors that believe and trust in each other the way that we do. It's an unfortunate thing and we knew it was there, but we're living in the future not the past."

Smith's go-to receiver last year was Santonio Holmes, who left OSU early and became a first-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, with the improved play of Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Robiskie, Roy Hall and others, Holmes' loss has not been felt that much.

"Well, anytime you lose a great player like Santonio, he brought so much more to the game than what you see on Saturdays," Smith said. "He was a great team-oriented person there in the locker room, and he was a great individual. That just goes along with the things that he did on the field. Yeah, we miss him. We would be that much better if he was still here. But when you're at a prestigious school like this, whatever it may be, you have to re-load and you have to keep going. So, yeah we miss him, but we have to keep moving."

One player who Smith gushes about is tailback Antonio Pittman. The 5-11, 200-pound junior has 625 rushing yards, is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and has scored seven touchdowns. Not everyone received the memo entering the season that Pittman was one of the best backs in the country, but they know now.

"When I speak about Antonio Pittman, it's a passionate feel for me because he doesn't get enough respect and the credit that I think he deserves," Smith said. "In countless situations, he's bailed us out. He's labeled as just another running back. He's not just another running back. He's one of the top three running backs, to me, in the nation. That goes without saying because I am a biased quarterback when I say it, but I think the world of him."

Smith was also asked about senior right guard T.J. Downing. Center Doug Datish is the captain up front, but Downing is the emotional and vocal leader of the group.

"Oh man, T.J. is probably the tough glue that holds us together," Smith said. "Every down he plays with that kind of drive and that kind of intensity and tenacity and he's going to get after it. It's very seldom that you can hold him, you just have to try and contain him. Let a lineman who is 6-5, 295 pounds (actually 6-4, 305) do what he's going to do and that's just be a beast out there and I wouldn't have him any other way."

The mohawk haircut seems like a perfect fit for Downing.

"Oh yeah, without a doubt. Without a doubt," Smith said. "If he came in and let his hair grow back out, I think I'd be upset. I wouldn't think, I'd know I'd be upset."

Ohio State is throwing the ball more than at any other time of the Tressel era. But as well as Smith is playing, the Buckeyes could probably put the ball in the air even more. Pittman might not like that, but would Smith enjoy throwing the ball upwards to 40 or 50 times per game?

"I think any quarterback would like to throw the ball ample-amount of times, but that's not football," Smith said. "That's a dream, that's a video game. That's what I do on my video game. But I think it's a delicate balance that you have to be able to run the ball to pass the ball. You have to be able to pass the ball to run the ball. When you get one-dimensional, that's when things start to go downhill. I'm cool with the way things are going. Our staff does a great job. They've been doing something right. Our record is right where we want it to be right now, so they've been doing something right."

Smith had to work his way up the depth chart at OSU. When he was recruited, it was as an "athlete." He wasn't even promised that he would get snaps at quarterback as a freshman. (Could you imagine the staff saying the same thing to Antonio Henton right now?). He redshirted in 2002, played mostly special teams in 2003 and even returned kicks. In 2004, Justin Zwick began the season as the starting quarterback and it took an injury to Zwick at Iowa for Smith to finally be given a chance to start.

Looking back, Smith wouldn't have it any other way. He believes he appreciates everything that is going on right now even more because of what happened earlier in his college career.

"Myself, yeah," he said. "Because once you see the other side, you understand and you totally respect any and everything that you get, 10 times more than you would if it was just handed to you. In any situation, anytime you see the other side, you understand that you don't want to go back."

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