Smith struggles, but delivers game-changing play

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith is riding such a wave even his worst statistical performance in a year is likely to further his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

Bothered by Penn State's secondary and sloppy conditions Saturday in Ohio Stadium, Smith still offered the signature highlight befitting many Heisman winners, while also lifting the No. 1 Buckeyes to a 28-6 victory.

Smith's 37-yard touchdown pass to freshman Brian Robiskie with 12:56 remaining extended OSU's lead to 14-3 after he retreated 15 yards behind the line and nearly into a quarterback sack that would have taken OSU out of field-goal range.

"I did one of the things that coach [Jim Tressel] always says don't do, and that's reverse field," Smith said. "You can't live by that. But Brian Robiskie stayed alive … You need moments like that when you're down and out, when things aren't going the way you want them to."

Other than that improvisation, Smith encountered nothing but trouble with a Penn State secondary that intercepted his second pass attempt of the game and his first try of the second half.

Those interceptions were Smiths' first picks in five games and 152 attempts and typified his struggles in a 12-for-22, 115-yard day.

That was Smith's worst game since going 13-of-25 for 139 yards, with one interception, in a 17-10 loss last year at Penn State.

The Buckeyes have since won 11 consecutive games and will take marks of 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten into Saturday's game (ABC, 8 ET) at No. 14 Iowa.

The Hawkeyes dominated OSU, 33-7, at Kinnick Stadium two years ago when Smith was the backup to Justin Zwick.

He's 17-2 as a starter since then.

"That game was a wake-up call," Smith said of Ohio State's loss at Iowa in 2004. "They let us know if you come into any school's stadium not focused, this can happen to you."

The 26-point loss at Iowa is Tressel's worst as OSU's coach and is the Buckeyes' worst conference road defeat since a 41-7 beating at Indiana in 1988.

"That game is one of those things, almost like a recurring nightmare," Ohio State defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said. "We try to block it out of our thoughts … They just beat us physically. I don't know what happened."

Likewise, Penn State will leave Ohio Stadium lamenting its seventh straight loss in the Horseshoe since joining the Big Ten in 1993.

The Nittany Lions (2-2, 0-1) failed to score off either of Smith's interceptions, including a gift-wrapped opportunity to pad their 3-0 halftime lead.

Kevin Kelly missed a 42-yard field goal attempt after linebacker Dan Connor grabbed a tipped pass at the Ohio State 26-yard line two plays into the second half.

Antonio Pittman's 12-yard run in the third quarter gave OSU a 7-3 margin before Smith found Robiskie to get the Buckeyes in the end zone again.

The Lions drove 79 yards to the Ohio State 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, but fullback BranDon Snow couldn't score on a third-down carry and guard Rich Ornberger moved before a fourth-down snap to force Kelly's 23-yard field goal.

That drew Penn State within 14-6, but quarterback Anthony Morelli threw the first of two interceptions returned for touchdowns on his team's next series.

Malcolm Jenkins' 61-yard return gave OSU a 21-6 lead with 2:31 to play and Antonio Smith's 55-yard return for another score closed the book on the Nittany Lions' seventh loss in as many games at Ohio Stadium since joining the conference.

"We had some chances, we just couldn't capitalize," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "You can't give up big plays in a game like this. Smith made a super play when he got away from our guy and threw that pass right on the button."

Paterno left the field in both the second and third quarters because of a "little virus." He first went to the locker room with 7½ minutes to play in the half, then returned for the third quarter, only to leave again after play resumed. He returned for good at the start of the fourth quarter.

Tressel didn't see his counterpart leave the field, but he did see Smith go against orders early in the fourth quarter.

"I don't like Troy to reverse field that deep, because if it's a fast guy, like one of our defensive guys, we're going to have a problem," Tressel said. "… If he wants to reverse field, it better be a touchdown."

Bruce Hooley covered the Big Ten for 19 years and now is host of a daily talk show on WBNS-AM1460 in Columbus, Ohio.