COLUMBUS - Troy Smith came into Ohio Stadium five years ago with nothing but a chip on his shoulder, and a lot to prove.
The senior quarterback played his final game here yesterday, displaying a dynamic arm, a steely will to win, and a resiliency that allowed him to carry his team through a sea of adversity on the grandest stage.
Smith led top-ranked Ohio State to a 42-39 win over No. 2 Michigan that reaped a treasure trove of booty.
The Buckeyes are 12-0, won their first outright Big Ten championship in 22 years and secured their place as the No. 1 team in the country from the regular season's start to finish. OSU earned a January trip to Arizona to play for the BCS national championship.
In the process, Smith allowed the engraver who handles the nameplate for the Heisman Trophy to get his work done before the Thanksgiving holiday. Smith passed for 316 yards and four touchdowns against Michigan, completing 29 of 41 passes, and in the process made the upcoming Heisman vote a foregone conclusion.
"I'll probably be wearing this smile for another week," Smith said after the game that pitted the bitter rivals for the first time as the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams.
"You've got to fight to persevere, and the Ohio State Buckeyes did just that."
Ohio State never trailed after matching Michigan's early touchdown midway through the first quarter, but the Buckeyes limited their breathing room by turning the ball over three times. Smith threw an interception and had a fumble on one of two bad snaps that resulted in possession changes, but the senior quarterback said his spirit never wavered.
"Things didn't go the way we wanted them to at times, but I was constantly reminded by my teammates that 'we follow you', " Smith said. "No one was going to let me get down."
As two of the country's best defenses took the field, a stunning offensive blizzard broke out. After Michigan (11-1) surged right over Ohio State with an 80-yard drive and a quick 7-0 lead on a short Mike Hart scoring run, the Buckeyes scored three straight touchdowns and went on to hold a 28-14 advantage at the half.
Michigan made it 28-24 midway through the third quarter with a 39-yard Garrett Rivas field goal and the second of Hart's three touchdowns, this one following an interception where 330-pound tackle Alan Branch picked off Smith's deflected pass.
The Buckeyes opened it up to 35-24 with an explosive 56-yard touchdown run by Antonio Pittman, the Buckeyes second long scoring run, the first was authored by Chris Wells' 52-yarder in the second quarter. A fumbled exchange from the shotgun two possessions later set Michigan up at the OSU 9-yard line.
The Wolverines punched it in on another Hart run, closing to within 35-31 with the bulk of the fourth quarter to play. The second bad snap never got to Smith, ending a long drive at the Michigan 32 when LaMarr Woodley recovered the ball for the Wolverines.
"There were a lot of good playmakers out there today, and some of the points Michigan scored, we gave them the ball down there pretty darn close," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "But guys stepped up there and made plays."
After the Buckeyes' defense forced Michigan to punt the ball away, Smith orchestrated an 11-play, 83-yard drive for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
Aided by a personal foul call on Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable for smacking Smith out of bounds, the Buckeyes marched to the 13 yard line where Smith threw a dart to Brian Robiskie on the edge of the end zone. That score made it a 42-31 edge with 5:38 to play.
"I've said for however many years we've been talking about Troy that his number one quality is his toughness," Tressel said about Smith, who was sacked four times by Michigan's frenetic pass rush.
"If you want to be a champion as a quarterback, toughness is number one, and he has that."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said the Buckeyes were a difficult team to rein in, since Smith is a talented veteran who can often create something out of nothing.
"They're a particularly outstanding offensive football team because they do a good job protecting the quarterback, and it's hard to get to him because of his mobility," Carr said. "He made a couple of plays scrambling where he had decent field position, and then let him out. That's what he does."
Michigan refused to fold after the Smith touchdown pass to Robiskie, and scored a touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Chad Henne to Tyler Ecker with just over two minutes to play. The Wolverines got within a field goal with a two-point conversion on a pass from Henne to Steve Breaston.
Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. recovered Michigan's onside kick that followed, and the Buckeyes ran out the clock to secure the muti-layered victory.
"It was a hard-fought game, but we're not disappointed," Henne said. "We played well, but I think there were some points when we could have executed better and took advantage of some of their turnovers at the end."39.96196 -83.00298