Longhorns must contend with Smith
No Texas players have had to play a whole game against the Buckeyes elusive quarterback.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Welcome to the nightmare, Texas.
After unleashing Vince Young on opponents the last three seasons, the No. 2 Longhorns now get a taste of trying to stop No. 1 Ohio State's Troy Smith, another strong, athletic quarterback who can pass or run around defenses.
"The good news is they've seen a big, fast guy at quarterback," Texas coach Mack Brown said of his defense. "The bad news is they were mostly watching Vince."
Smith leads Ohio State (1-0) into Austin Saturday night a year after Young and the Longhorns (1-0) ended the Buckeyes' hopes for a national title and started their own with a 25-22 win.
"You can kind of compare him to Vince," said Longhorns defensive end Tim Crowder. "He brings it all to the table."
Running or passing, Smith creates all kinds of problems.
Texas remembers chasing him last year, only to watch him throw a long touchdown pass. They got him with a final safety in the end, but it was far from easy.
"He's dangerous running to both sides and up the middle. He's got a tremendous, accurate long-range ball," said defensive co-coordinator Gene Chizik. "Like Vince, he's got the competitive side, the confidence. And in big games, he's at his best."
Complicating things for Texas is the suspension of starting senior cornerback Tarell Brown, who was arrested Monday on misdemeanor gun and drug charges.
The loss of their best cover corner means safety Michael Griffin is the only starter in the secondary with much experience against Smith.
But none of the Longhorns have had to play a whole game against him.
Rotated with Zwick
Smith was returning from an NCAA suspension when the teams played last year and spent the game rotating with starter Justin Zwick.
Texas led 10-0 when Smith came in and energized the Buckeyes with a Young-like performance. His runs and a 36-yard TD pass rallied Ohio State to a 16-13 halftime lead.
But the Buckeyes never got into a rhythm behind the quarterback shuffle. After Texas took a late 23-22 lead in the final three minutes, Zwick fumbled when he was sacked.
Texas couldn't capitalize with a touchdown, but pinned the Buckeyes back on their 1-yard line. Back in the game, Smith had little room to run when he was tackled in the end zone for the final safety.
Given his success in the first half, it's possible the Buckeyes could have won that game if he had played more.
It's a big 'what-if,' but scary enough to make Longhorns fans shudder and thank Ohio State coach Jim Tressel for sticking with Zwick.
The Buckeyes finished 10-2 behind a seven-game winning streak with Smith as the starter. He threw for 16 touchdowns, ran for another 11 and had only four interceptions.
A quarterback with those kinds of numbers for the No. 1 team generates Heisman Trophy buzz, just like Young last year.
Last season, Buckeye defenders talked about knocking Young out of Heisman contention. They contained his running but gave up 270 yards passing and two touchdowns.
The Texas defense, which returns seven starters from last season, only had praise for Smith this week.
"He is a great player. Really smart," Crowder said. "He could probably be a tailback if he wanted to because he runs so hard."
Smith passed for 297 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 35-12 win over Northern Illinois. He rarely ran the ball because he didn't need to.
"I feel that any time we touch the ball we should be able to score," Smith said. "Without a doubt. There should be no reason why we can't, and if we don't score, then it's our wrongdoing."
Texas expects the Buckeyes will run Smith a lot Saturday night. The last thing they want is to see him zigzagging through the secondary.
"We want to try to keep him in the pocket and make him make deep throws," Griffin said. "I don't think we want him to get out there running."
Smith's teammates try to avoid comparing him to Young but can't get away from it.
"They both work hard to make sure their teams don't lose," offensive lineman Kirk Barton said. "When you see Troy's great performances strung together, you think he has a sixth sense for the game."
Check Sunday's Vindicator for sports editor Rob Todor coverage of the game, as well as Todor's blog all week at vindy.com.