COLUMBUS — After a mobile quarterback gave Michigan’s defense fits for the second time in three games, Pierre Woods couldn’t help but question what he signed up for when he chose to come to Ann Arbor.
“I just don’t know what the Big Ten is coming to,” the junior linebacker said. “I thought it was all power — now we’re going to finesse.
“Recruit, get the guys you need, and let’s play some ball — go get it, running attack power football. That’s what the Big Ten is all about. Now it’s like the Pac-10 or SEC.”
Two games ago, Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton totaled 189 yards — including 84 on the ground — in just one half. Had he not injured his shoulder and sat out the second half, the Wolverines may not have rallied to win.
On Saturday, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith exploited Michigan for the full 60 minutes with his legs and arm. Starting in just his fifth career game, Smith threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 145 yards and a touchdown. He was the first Buckeye quarterback to pass for 200 yards and run for 100 yards in a game. He also was never sacked and didn’t commit a turnover.
The Buckeyes — ranked 101st in the nation in total offense heading into Saturday — scored a season-high 37 points and gained more yards than in any other conference game this season.
Defenses often put a linebacker or safety assigned solely to a mobile quarterback to contain him. Linebacker Prescott Burgess was in on third downs to spy Smith, but it made little difference. The Buckeyes converted 8-of-17 third downs in the game.
“(Smith) came out and killed us throwing the ball and especially running the ball,” cornerback Marlin Jackson said. “Man coverage, you turn around and the ball’s being ran all the way down the field. It’s hard to stop that. He’s a guy we knew could break tackles and make people miss, and he did a good job of that today.”
Smith showed from the very beginning that Ohio State’s offense wouldn’t be easy to defend. On the fifth play from scrimmage, Smith calmly eluded Michigan’s three-man pass rush and gave his receivers seemingly unlimited time to get open. He saw receiver Anthony Gonzalez slip past safety Ernest Shazor and hit him in stride for a 68-yard touchdown pass.
In the third quarter, on third-and-eight, Smith spun away from Woods and sprinted down the left sideline for a 46-yard run. Three plays later, he threw a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes to give the Buckeyes an overwhelming 34-14 lead.
Michigan’s defense, which once led the nation in forced turnovers, has struggled to defend against big plays. The Wolverines have allowed more than 40 yards on a play at least 17 times this season.
“We gave up too many big plays,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think the big difference is Ohio State ran the football very effectively. Troy Smith created some big plays (and) kept some drives alive.”
And Ohio State’s big plays were part of even bigger drives. The Buckeyes had touchdown drives of 99 and 97 yards, part of 27 unanswered points by the Buckeyes. On those two drives, they threw just four passes and ran the ball 18 times, and Smith threw for 63 yards and a touchdown and ran for 89 yards and a touchdown.
“That’s why I say you have to give Ohio State credit,” Carr said. “If you have that kind of field position, the odds are you’re going to stop them. We couldn’t stop them. I think Ohio State played great today.”
There was one good stretch the defense can look back on and be proud of. On back-to-back possessions in the second quarter, the Buckeyes faced a first-and-goal at Michigan’s two- and one-yard line, but settled for just one field goal.
But that was when the Buckeyes had little room to operate and had to play what Woods would call “Big Ten football.” In the open field, when Smith had room to maneuver, it was a different story.
“There’s a couple schools that keep running the same plays like power football the way it’s supposed to be run in the Big Ten, and you got other teams that run spread offenses,” Woods said. “It helps them out a lot. We’ve just got to adjust to it and keep doing it.”