The deafening home crowd quieted significantly after Michigan took the kickoff and marched down the field to take a 7-0 lead. The punt team was ready to come in as the Buckeyes had the difficult task of picking up 16 yards against a stout defense. The offensive line gave Troy enough time to throw a laser to a well covered Hall deep in the middle who almost broke the play for a touchdown. Hall scored six plays later and the Wolverines never led the game again.
Why it made the list: Although Smith's dart to Hall on a deep post occurred early in the game, it deserves to be recognized on this list. Had Ohio State not converted, Michigan would have had the lead and the ball, something that could have dramatically altered the game going forward. Many coaches do not trust their quarterbacks in this situation, however Tressel did and Troy delivered.
What Happened: Facing fourth and one on the 2-yard line early in the game, Tressel decided to roll the dice and go for it. There wasn't much of a hole, but with a solid second effort Chris Wells was able to find the end zone to take an early 7-0 lead. This seven points seemed insignificant at the time but would prove to be vital later in the game.
Why it made the list: Many readers will not agree with this unexciting run making the list. However, if Illinois's defense holds on fourth down you can do the math and see that we would be looking at a 10-10 tie. Would Ohio State have won without this Wells' Touchdown? Probably, but it's impossible to know for sure and I am know the way that game was going many Buckeye fans were glad to get out of Champaign with an ugly 17-10 win.
What Happened: Leading 21-10 early in the third quarter and barely in field goal range, Smith hit Gonzalez in stride at the 25-yardline for a nice five yards. Gonzalez turned on the jets and sprinted to the twelve where he cut on a dime barely missing the attempted tackle of a pursuing linebacker from behind.
Gonzalez then headed for the sideline but backs up eight yards all the way back to the 20- yard line with multiple Iowa defenders joining the pursuit. Finally getting the corner, Gonzalez heads back up field where five defenders have the angle on him. The first two are wiped out on terrific block by Brian Hartline at the 10-yardline. Gonzalez cuts inside a would be tackler at the five and then leaps through an arm tackle at the goal line for the score.
Why it made the list: At the time Iowa was ranked 13th and in front of a national audience and a raucous crowd. One could say that this play signaled the beginning of the end for the highly touted Hawkeyes in 2006. Brent Musberger's call of "Are you kidding me" is spot on as the Buckeyes put the game out of reach and renders the Iowa crowd almost silent for the remainder of the game.
7) The Play: 39-yard Ginn Touchdown Catch Against Michigan
What Happened: Up 14-7 in the second quarter, the Buckeye offense suddenly broke the huddle and sprinted to the line of scrimmage. For the first time all season the offense quick snaps in a formation that has Ted Ginn lined up at Tight End. Short yardage specialist, Chris Wells, wins an Academy award for his fake dive for the first down as Troy Smith hides the ball behind his back leg.
By the time Michigan is aware that Smith has the ball, Ginn is behind the defense thanks to great acting job on faking a run block on Leon Hall. Ginn waits for the perfect pass from Smith at the goal line and makes sure to tuck the ball away as he hits the turf in the end zone.
Why it made the list: Jim Tressel loves to save 1 surprise a year for Michigan. In 2002 the winning touchdown was a never before seen option play to Maurice Hall. In 2004 Tressel surprised Michigan by going mostly with a spread shotgun formation on offense. Last year the running game got an added boost with the almost extinct unbalanced offensive line.
This year Tressel didn't disappoint as this touchdown was scored thanks to the execution of four things Michigan had never seen all year on tape 1) running up to line of scrimmage. 2) Ginn at tight end, 3) play action to Wells 4) Smith hiding ball behind back leg. It's hard to believe that Tressel is 5-1 vs. Michigan but if you look at the planning and execution of this play, it's really not hard to believe at all.
6) The Play: James Laurinaitis's interception against Texas
What Happened: Texas's last passing play of the first half ended with a Colt McCoy touchdown pass. Looking to lead Texas to another game tying drive, McCoy's first pass of the second half is intercepted by budding star linebacker James Laurinaitis. James plucks the ball out of the air and returns the ball 23-yards into field goal range. The Buckeyes cash in with a Pettrey FG making it a two score game
Why it made the list: Not only were the three points key in the game, but the interception served as a decisive blow to Texas's offensive game plan. Texas tried to get back in the game with mostly runs and short passes, a strategy that failed to yield any points.
What happened: Morelli looking to get the Nittany Lions across midfield spots his tight end on the 35 yard line and fires a pass towards the sideline. Unfortunately for Morelli, Malcolm Jenkins is in front of the intended receiver and shows text book form going up to intercept the ball at its highest point.
Jenkins lands on the turf and starts sprinting up the field. Showing great athleticism and vision he makes a cut while running through an unsuccessful arm tackle. Heading down the sideline, Jenkins outruns Morelli's intended target as well as two attempted diving tackles by offensive lineman. Morelli is unable to make the tackle as Jenkins makes an agile cut to the inside. With the end zone now in sight and a convoy of blockers ahead, Jenkins avoids the last would be tackler who gets a brief hold of his jersey .Jenkins sprints to the end zone and draws the ire of many Buckeye fans by spiking the ball very close to the goal line.
Why it made the list: Down by eight with under three minutes to play Penn State still had a chance albeit not a good one the way the Ohio State defense was playing. This play ended any chance of a Penn State comeback. The return is one of the more impressive plays all year.
4) The Play: Chris Wells 52-yard Touchdown Run against Michigan
What happened: In a rare appearance in the shotgun formation Wells took the Smith handoff and was immediately in trouble as Sean Crable was already in the backfield and in position for the tackle. Crable whiffs entirely as Wells spins away before accelerating towards the hole. Wells keeps his balance and doesn't lose speed running through the line of scrimmage where a Michigan defensive lineman makes a futile effort to slow him down. Wells fends off a diving attempt by a Michigan safety and sprints the remaining 40 yards to the end zone where two Michigan defenders escort him into the end zone
Why it made the list: Unless you live in a cave, you were fully informed that Michigan's defense was giving up less then 40 yards a game. Analysts predicted that Ohio State would be wasting their time trying to run on such a notoriously stout Michigan defense. On 1 play Chris Wells shattered that notion.
Wells's run gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the game, one they would never surrender. This play forced also forced Michigan to respect the run game which later opened up the door for the play action touchdown pass to Ginn.
3) The Play: Troy Smith's 29-yard Touchdown pass to Ted Ginn vs. Texas
What happened: Texas had just drawn even with the Buckeyes thanks to the charitable help of the officials on a phantom helmet to helmet call. With limited time left, Tressel aggressively tried to recapture the lead before halftime. At the 29-yard line with 22 seconds left, many coaches would have throttled the offense down and try to set up for a field goal attempt.
Revered defensive coordinator Gene Chizik must have been thinking the same thing as the defense was playing press coverage on both outside receivers. Seeing this Smith gave the audible for Ginn to run a go pattern to the end zone. A quick fake to the outside and Ginn was in a race to the end zone with his man. Smith put enough air under his pass for Ginn to run under. Touchdown Buckeyes.
Why it made the list: The momentum was clearly in favor of the Longhorns after tying the game with its only touchdown of the game. If Texas could withstand the Buckeyes final drive of the half, they would start the second half with the ball and a chance to take the lead. Ginn's touchdown took swung the momentum back in favor of the Buckeyes and more importantly forced Gene Chizik to reconsider his aggressive defensive play calling.
2) The Play: Troy Smith's 37 yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie vs. Penn State
What happened: Leading 7-3 in the fourth quarter and having already thrown two interceptions Troy Smith's Heisman campaign was in trouble. Smith took the shotgun snap and looked to make a quick throw to his left. With his first read not open and pressure coming up the middle, Smith rolls to his right where Tim Shaw has gotten off his block. Shaw forces Smith to retreat all the way back to the 50 before Smith spins back towards the middle. Smith's move to the inside now has backed him a full 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage. With Shaw and others bearing down, Smith plants his feet and launches a pass to the end zone 60-yards downfield, Brian Robiskie hasn't given up on the play and is open running across the goal line. Smith's 60-yard heave surprisingly has the accuracy and the distance to make it to Robiskie who does a terrific job using his body to shield the defender from making a play on the ball.
Why it made the list: Despite the pure awesomeness of this play, it occurred during a critical junction of a close game. Penn State was unable to answer with a touchdown of their own forcing them to go deep down the field late in the game which led to two late defensive touchdowns. This play also served as Smith's signature Heisman highlight on a day where he was not at his best.
1) The Play: Donald Washington's 48-yard Fumble Return vs. Texas
What Happened: The defending National champs were knocking on the door facing a second goal at the 7-yardline. McCoy found Billy Pittman in the flat who made the catch . Looking up and seeing the end zone in front of him, Pittman makes a quick move to the inside. Brandon Mitchell shows great reflexes and is able to get his arms around Pittman's legs at the three. Pittman gets greedy and attempts to drag Mitchell into the end zone. Laurinitis hustles to put a final lick on Pittman which jars the ball lose. Donald Washington scoops the ball up and looks up to see plenty of green grass in front of him. Washington sprints down the sideline before being forced at midfield by a combination of McCoy and Jamal Charles. The Buckeyes score the first TD of the game five plays later.
Why it made the list: Turnovers in the red zone turn coaches hair gray and give fans ulcers. Texas would have had third and goal from inside the 2-yardline which teams punch in about 50 percent of the time. Without this fumble the Buckeyes are 2-yards away from going down 7-0 on the road against the defending national champs. Instead Laurinitis makes a great hit and Washington gives the Buckeyes great field position which they capitalize on. At worse this play was a 10 point swing in favor of the Buckeyes as well as a huge blow to the Texas's confidence.
Honorable Mention: Detractors of this list will be quick to point out that no play from the second half of the Michigan game made the list. This is a legitimate gripe. However, in a game full of big plays it was hard to put to find room on the list for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, a not so flashy but very important TD to Robiskie, and a Antonio Pittman touchdown against a missing. One last play that didn't make the final cut, was Troy Smith's 31-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn against Indiana. It's almost impossible to put a play on this list from a 44-3 game. However, I have never seen a quarterback spin away from a rusher, proceed to avoid the rush by rolling to his left before throwing a perfect deep ball WHILE backpedaling.