The Buckeyes were down nine points with 7:49 left in the game. But that didn’t worry quarterback Troy Smith, who quickly led his team down the field for two quick scores.

“Troy Smith took over the last couple drives to give us a chance,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “Troy gives you that will to win and that command of his team.”

It took Smith just five plays to get Ohio State within two, but, like so many times before, Michigan’s defense almost had him contained. It was third-and-10, and the secondary had Ohio State’s receivers blanketed. With nowhere to throw, Smith rolled to his left. He sidestepped Michigan defender after Michigan defender and somehow managed to pick up 14 yards and a first down. On the next play, Smith found Holmes for a 26-yard touchdown grab.

“In the end, Troy Smith made too many plays,” Carr said. “He scrambled out of there when we thought we had him sacked and he made the pass. Prior to that, he made a big play on third down.”

They were supposed to be able to contain mobile quarterbacks. They were supposed to have figured out how to stop a spread offense. But Smith made everyone think otherwise.

Much like last year, when the Buckeyes’ quarterback torched the Wolverines’ defense for 390 all-purpose yards, Smith had all the answers on Saturday.

After the game, it seemed everyone wanted to sing Smith’s praises. Senior co-captain Pat Massey, who has started at defensive tackle every game this year, said that Smith was the best quarterback the defense has faced all season.

“We’ve seen some good ones at Michigan State and Penn State, but I think Troy was the difference-maker out there, and we just didn’t do a good enough job stopping him,” Massey said.

But it wasn’t just one of those tales of late-game heroics. It had that too, but Smith’s story started right from the beginning. Michigan came out of the tunnel for the final time of the year fired up. Alan Branch stuffed running back Antonio Pittman on first down for a four-yards loss, and, after an incomplete pass on second down, it was third-and-14. Smith sat patiently back in the pocket and waited for wide receiver Santonio Holmes to break free – 15-yard catch and a first down.

That play was a back-breaker for the Wolverines, who then watched as Smith finished a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive. The trip downfield ate up more than six minutes and got Ohio State on board first.

“He was just a little more patient back there, scrambling around a little bit and waiting for the receivers to get open,” rush end LaMarr Woodley said of Smith.

Last year, Smith burned Michigan with his legs, rushing for 150 yards on 18 carries. This year, he had just 48 yards on the ground but was content to beat the Wolverines with his arm. Like he did on that first drive, Smith converted third-and-long after third-and-long to keep drives alive, and he finished with 300 passing yards – a career-best.

For almost two quarters in the middle of the game, it looked as if the defense might have figured Smith out. After allowing the Buckeyes to score on the first two drives of the game, Michigan gave up just one field goal on the next six Ohio State possessions – forcing two punts and two fumbles (one of which was by Smith) in that time.

Last year, Michigan appeared almost helpless against mobile quarterbacks. The Wolverines ended the year with games against Ohio State and Texas in which Smith and Texas quarterback Vince Young single-handedly beat Michigan in back-to-back contests. But Smith said he considers himself to be a much better signal-caller this year, partly because of his new throw-first, run-second attitude.

On many occasions, Smith used his legs to buy himself extra time, searching downfield for one of his three super-fast wideouts. The game-winning touchdown was set up by a 26-yard toss to Anthony Gonzalez to the Michigan four-yard line with less than a minute left in the game – a throw that Smith had to scramble to make.

“It’s just knowing and understanding that every play does not need to be made with your feet,” Smith said. “As a quarterback, you need to slow the game down and come up to the line understanding what they want to do.”

What they wanted to do was stop Smith, a redshirt junior, from beating them for the second year in a row. But a strong start and an amazing finish by Smith was enough to put the game out of reach. And it seemed like Smith was just a little bit out of reach all day long.

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