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September 10, 2006

Smith out front early for Heisman

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Ohio State 24, Texas 7 | Box score
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AUSTIN, Texas Bronze statues were a hot topic on a warm Saturday at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

A life-sized bronze sculpture of Earl Campbell, the University of Texas' larger-than-life football hero, was unveiled in the stadium's southwest corner during an afternoon ceremony.

Later that evening, Ohio State senior quarterback Troy Smith showed his future may also include a bronze statue - you know, the 25-pound stiff-arming football player that Campbell won in 1977.

The Heisman Trophy race typically has more lead changes than a tight basketball game, so it's far too premature to dismiss the candidacies of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, Oklahoma tailback Adrian Peterson, Auburn tailback Kenny Irons or Ohio State receiver Ted Ginn Jr., among others.

However, Smith surely established himself as an early front-runner after brilliantly leading the top-ranked Buckeyes to a 24-7 victory over the second-ranked Longhorns.

In a masterful performance that Heisman voters will surely remember in December, he completed 17 of 26 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns in a national marquee matchup.

"I tried to take whatever was built in with whatever was called," Smith said. "If you can take the number one (option) you don't take the number two. It's just read and progression."

There is no doubt about how much Smith has progressed.

Last season he did not start the Buckeyes' 25-22 loss to the Longhorns because of disciplinary action. But he has matured into one of college football's most outstanding and versatile players.

"He's improved methodically and incrementally throughout his career," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He knows the game real well. He's got some good guys with him and a bunch of good guys up front. Our defense was getting the ball back and when you have a guy like Troy, with the development he's had, you have a chance."

The Longhorns thought their best chance was to make Smith prove his passing arm rather than take their chances with his feet.

No football team in the world knows the value of a mobile quarterback's immense value than Texas, who rode Vince Young's explosive running ability to last season's national championship. So keeping Smith in the pocket seemed a sound strategy.

The Longhorns succeeded in nullifying Smith's running threat, limiting his longest run to 3 yards and holding him to minus 13 yards rushing which includes sacks.

But he more than compensated by picking apart a Longhorns secondary which was without suspended starting cornerback Tarell Brown.

Smith completed eight passes to Anthony Gonzalez, including one for a 14-yard touchdown.

He connected with Ted Ginn Jr. five times for 97 yards, including a perfectly thrown 29-yard touchdown pass 16 seconds before halftime.

"We didn't think Troy would pass this much," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We concentrated on Troy's rush and Ted Ginn and (running back) Antonio Pittman and Anthony Gonzalez were able to get a lot of yards. He (Gonzalez) and Troy were probably the difference in the ballgame."

In two games, Smith has completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 566 yards and five touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception.

That compares favorably to Quinn, who has completed 64.9 percent for 533 yards and three touchdowns, but hasn't played the defending national champion on the road.

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge has completed 74.5 percent for 624 yards and seven touchdowns, while Florida's Chris Leak has thrown for 600 yards and seven touchdowns, but their caliber of competition hasn't been as impressive.

The same goes for Peterson, who has 304 rushing yards and three touchdowns. West Virginia's Steve Slaton has 308 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

At least 10 games still remain for teams this season more than some Heisman recipients played in the year they won the trophy so there will likely be lead changes along the way.

At this point, however, Smith is clearly in the lead for that bronze statue.



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