The brawl in the
Royal was down to garbage time. The longest winning streak in Division I-A was
on life support, and a handful of orange-clad students were having trouble
coping. Safe behind a railing and a line of police at Royal-Memorial Stadium,
they shouted insults at the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes, questioning their
manhood, slandering their mothers and otherwise making fools of themselves. �
With two minutes left in a game that ended 24--7, the hecklers found themselves
drowned out by noise from the north end of the stadium. From the 4,000 or so
Ohio State fans who formed a wedge of scarlet in a sea of burnt orange, the
chant arose: "We're Number 1!"
Fans of the 2005
national champions, who last saw their Texas Longhorns lose almost two years
ago and had grown accustomed to making that boast themselves, had no reply,
just as the Texas defense had no effective answer for Troy Smith. The Buckeyes'
senior quarterback alternated between efficient and electrifying last Saturday
night, completing 17 of 26 passes for 269 yards, with two touchdowns and no
interceptions. The 66-yard scoring drive Smith engineered late in the first
half--his perfectly placed 29-yard touchdown pass to wideout Ted Ginn Jr. came
with 16 seconds remaining--basically kneecapped the home team. It provided the
winning margin in this early-season epic between No. 1 (Ohio State) and No. 2
( Texas), and a sobering note in the party town of Austin. Only two teams in the
last 27 years have repeated as national champions; the Longhorns are unlikely
to make it three.
With just under
two minutes left in the first half, redshirt freshman quarterback Colt McCoy
had tied the game at seven with a two-yard strike to wide receiver Billy
Pittman. That was as good as it got for McCoy. Smith answered with the sublime
rainbow to Ginn, putting the Buckeyes up for good and killing the buzz Texas
had hoped to take into intermission.
The Longhorns won
the national title thanks largely to the sorcery of Vince Young, the uniquely
gifted, dual-threat quarterback now with the Tennessee Titans. While it's
tempting to say that Smith gave Texas a taste of Young's medicine (last
September the Longhorns kick-started their championship drive with a 25--22 win
in Columbus), it's not completely accurate. While Smith rushed 218 times for
950 yards in 2004 and '05, he has carried the ball just eight times in two
games this season for a grand total of minus-14 yards.
The fact is, he
is not particularly eager to display his running skills. He would much rather
showcase his throwing ability. "No exaggeration, he's got one of the best
arms I've ever seen--a cannon," marvels OSU flanker Anthony (Gonzo)
Gonzalez. "But he still has incredible touch."
Smith hasn't really needed to run. Against Texas the mere expectation that he
would take off was enough to cause the Longhorns to focus much of their
defensive preparation on stopping that threat. Five days before the game, there
was Texas co--defensive coordinator Gene Chizik describing in detail the
"great running game package" Ohio State had concocted for number 10:
Smith running the option; Smith spearheading what Chizik described as the
Buckeyes' "quarterback power game."
charges found themselves faced with a quarterback who is empowered by airing
the ball out. This is a guy who was recruited as a great athlete rather than a
quarterback. In '03 he was invited to return kickoffs; in '04 he was asked to
learn the wide receiver position. He is a proud young man who wants to be
thought of as a quarterback--not a running quarterback or an
Whenever he was
asked last week to compare himself with Young, Smith would flinch almost
imperceptibly, then answer by not answering. "He's a great guy, but I play
for a totally different team," he said on one occasion. "He's six-six,
I'm six-one," he said on another, inadvertently spotting the former
Longhorn an extra inch. Smith dodged the question because there was no upside
in answering it truthfully, in saying something along the lines of: I'm better
at getting through my progressions. And when I do release the ball, I have a
more fluid motion and throw a better, more accurate deep ball--make that a more
accurate ball, period--than he ever will.
shared by Young and Smith is what Ohio State coach Jim Tressel describes simply
as "a command"--the ability to exude and instill confidence and
certainty, no matter how dire the situation. a half hour before kickoff, a man
whose ensemble included white shoes, white shorts and a scarlet-and-white
cape--he identified himself as Buck-I-Guy--stood at the railing behind the
Texas bench and made a series of proclamations: "This is the game of the
century! This is Ali-Frazier! You've heard of the Thrilla in Manila--this
here's the Brawl in the Royal!"
Truth be told,
the Brawl was more Holyfield-Bowe than Ali-Frazier. Things never got especially
dire for the Buckeyes. McCoy's first pass of the second half was intercepted by
James Laurinaitis, a ball-hawking sophomore linebacker whose father could have
taught Buck-I-Guy a thing or two about outlandish getups. In the '80s and '90s,
Joe Laurinaitis worked the pro wrestling circuit as Animal, one half of the tag
team known as the Road Warriors.