COLUMBUS - Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. helped Ohio State block out its problems for one day at least.
Quarterback Smith rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown and passed for two more scores, and Ginn returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown, leading the underdog Buckeyes to a stunning 37-21 victory over No. 7 Michigan yesterday.
The victory not only salvaged Ohio State's disappointing season, it came against hated rival Michigan, and made people temporarily forget about Maurice Clarett and the NCAA investigation.
"Beating Michigan is always huge for the morale," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who improved to 3-1 against the Wolverines. "[Former] coach [Earle] Bruce tells us every year, the Ohio State coach, if he wins the Ohio State-Michigan game, he can walk down the street in Columbus. If he loses, he better walk the back alleys.
"So it's an important game."
For Ohio State's players and coaches, nothing feels better than beating Michigan, especially when the stakes were so high for the Wolverines.
The Buckeyes (7-4, 4-4) snapped Michigan's 13-game conference winning streak, prevented the Wolverines (9-2, 7-1) from clinching their second consecutive outright Big Ten championship and temporarily denied them a return trip to the Rose Bowl.
However, the Wolverines backed into the Rose Bowl last night when Iowa beat Wisconsin 30-7. Michigan and Iowa finished as co-champions of the Big Ten, but UM advanced as a result of its 30-17 win over the Hawkeyes.
It hardly mattered to Smith.
"Before the game I had tears in my eyes," he said. "I didn't really realize what this rivalry was about, and is about, until you get a 'W,' until you're in it, until you're in the fight.
"My hat's off to Michigan, but today is Ohio State's day."
It was mostly Smith's day, but he got some help from Ginn, his former teammate at Glenville High School in Cleveland.
The sophomore improved to 4-1 as the Buckeyes' starting quarterback since replacing Justin Zwick.
He accounted for 386 of the Buckeyes' 446 total yards of offense.
"Troy Smith had a great day," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
Smith had 18 carries, including a two-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that capped a 99-yard drive. He fell one yard short of tying the Ohio State record for most rushing yards by a quarterback - Cornelius Greene has 146 against Wisconsin in 1974 - but his 145 yards were the most by an Ohio State player this season.
Smith, who also directed a 97-yard drive in the third quarter, completed 13 of 23 passes for 241 yards. He tossed scoring strikes of 68 yards to Anthony Gonzalez and 12 yards to Santonio Holmes as the Buckeyes snapped Michigan's eight-game winning streak and likely secured a berth in the Alamo Bowl.
Smith was not sacked and did not throw an interception. He was the first player in school history to rush for 100 yards and pass for 200 yards in a game.
"I told Troy in the locker room, 'That was a legendary performance,' " said Gonzalez, who caught his first career touchdown pass on the Buckeyes' fifth play from scrimmage. "Congratulations."
Smith, who had three turnovers a week ago against Purdue, was a bit reluctant to accept such high praise.
"If it was one of the legendary performances, I'm very grateful and thankful for the opportunity to do that, but I guess I didn't really think about it."
Ginn's 82-yard punt return in the third quarter was Ohio State's fifth for a touchdown this season - and his fourth, which set an Ohio State and Big Ten record.
Ginn caught Adam Finley's punt at his 18 midway through the third quarter, with Ohio State on top 20-14. He broke a few tackles and sidestepped Finley's weak tackle attempt along the sideline on his way to the end zone.
"We've just been telling everybody to hold up on the blocks and make a good block," Ginn said. "Me catching the punt was the most important thing there. I saw the guy, so I had to try and do something real quick. I was just trying to find a hole to get vertical, as my coach told me to.
"As I've said before, once you see the touchdown, there's no point in making a move. You just use your speed and get to the end zone."
After freshman quarterback Chad Henne led the Wolverines on two impressive scoring drives the first two times they had the ball, Ohio State's defense dominated the rest of the way.
Michigan, averaging 165 yards rushing a game, was held to 71. Freshman Mike Hart, the Big Ten's rushing leader, finished with just 61 yards on 18 carries, and Henne completed 27 of 54 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Ohio State has won 21 of its last 22 home games, but Michigan still leads the all-time series 57-38-6.
"Beating Michigan is such a great feeling, and it's such a big win for our program," Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "I do not think we will really understand how important this win is until we are older."
Contact Ron Musselman at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6474.39.96196 -83.00298