By TIM MAY
The Columbus Dispatch
The Rod Smith renaissance project at Ohio State might have had a huge setback last week were it not for video review.
Coach Urban Meyer didn’t immediately give a thumbs down after Smith lost a fumble on Saturday against Illinois. The running back had already caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Miller, put in several bruising runs and returned a couple of kickoffs for decent yardage.
For Smith, a third-year sophomore who has toiled in the shadows of Miller and running back Carlos Hyde, it was his most extensive action in a meaningful game of his career, which had been stunted by occasional drops and other factors.
In this case, he had caught a pass against the Illini when the ball popped free. Meyer was upset, but he withheld judgment pending video review.
“When I looked closely at it, as I always do, if it was a ball security issue (the wrist below the elbow) or laziness or not doing what we teach, then that would have had a major issue on it,” Meyer said. “But it wasn’t that at all. The defender put his face right on the ball.”
Though Meyer would have preferred Smith to hang on to the ball, “That doesn’t set him back at all,” he said. “I thought he played real hard. He caught a big touchdown pass for us and has really come on. So we might do more of that two backs in the backfield at the same time.”
That was a formation the Buckeyes went to often against the Illini, with Hyde and Smith flanking Miller in a triple-barrel shotgun. It’s another twist in an offense that has offered new wrinkles each week on the way to a 10-0 record, and it’s likely working on more during Ohio State’s bye week as it prepares for games against Wisconsin and Michigan.
“A lot of people are coming on late into the offense,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of great talent, and everybody is coming along pretty good.”
He knows he is one of those people added late to the menu.
“I feel like I am coming along — and it all starts in practice,” Smith said. “You’ve got to stay focused on the little things, and then the big plays are going to come.”
Against the Illini, he shot past a defender and found himself open for a 51-yard TD pass.
“Ball in my hand, I don’t have a problem with it,” Smith said.
Wrist above the elbow?
“Yeah,” he said, grinning.
That’s one of the “little things” he mentioned, fundamentals that make a difference in playing time, things he might have been slacking on earlier before he bought into the dedication Meyer demands. The rules are rote to him now.
“Ball security, the No.1 rule; protect the quarterback (in pass protection), second rule,” Smith said, starting down the list. “It’s mainly just going out there and doing your job.”