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How Troy Smith engineered the 2005 Ohio State comeback over Michigan

One of the more exciting matchups in this rivalries history.

G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

Ohio State's 2005 season holds a special place in my heart. The team was not as good as their 2006 successors, nor were they as exciting as the young but talented underdogs that the 2004 group was comprised of. Nope, Ohio State's 2005 squad suffered an early defeat at the hands of Ryan Hamby Texas, and later at Penn State (back in the day when the Nittany Lions were consistently a ranked squad) to effectively end any national title hopes for the Buckeye faithful.

While beating Notre Dame in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and extending the Irish's NCAA record bowl losing streak was great and all, the number one game that will always stick out to me from the 2005 season was Michigan. Not even the whole game actually, just the last half of the 4th quarter. The comeback.

Ohio State came into Michigan Stadium ranked seventh in the country at 8-2 while Michigan was ranked fifteenth at 7-3. What followed was a typical Jim Tressel vs. Lloyd Carr match up. A 9-0 Ohio State lead quickly began to evaporate after a Buckeye fumble deep in their own territory, which led to a quick touchdown by Michigan wide receiver Jason Avant. From here, a 3rd quarter touchdown by backup Michigan running back Kevin Grady (Mike Hart was dinged up the entire game) pushed Michigan's lead to 18-12 as the 4th quarter began. This is what set the stage for one of the greatest Buckeye comebacks in The Game's history.

1st and 10. Michigan Ball. 9:45 remaining. Michigan 18 Ohio State 12

"Nine would be a good number for them (Michigan) at 8:52," Brent Musburger

Michigan was driving. Having failed to generate any sort of offense without the assist of a turnover or bad punt (damnit AJ Trapasso) Michigan finally pieced together a few first downs and found themselves in Buckeye territory. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne lofted a deep pass down the right sideline which Michigan wide receiver Mario Manningham tracked down for a huge gain inside the Ohio State 10 yard line.

Michigan's offense proceeded to stall just nine yards away from a potential dagger touchdown, after a quarterback draw on 3rd and goal went nowhere, Michigan was forced to settle for three points. The Wolverines converted the short field goal, making it a two score game.

1st and 10. Ohio State Ball. 7:49 remaining. Michigan 21 Ohio State 12

"It's almost do or die time now for Ohio State," Gary Danielson

Troy Smith wasn't even the starting quarterback at Ohio State when the 2005 season began. Having found himself in Tressel's doghouse after breaking a team rule prior to the Buckeyes' 2004 Alamo Bowl win, Buckeyes fans were treated forced to deal with Justin Zwick and his career 57 completion percentage for the beginning of the 2005 season. Luckily, after Smith outplayed Zwick in Ohio State's loss to Texas, Tressel named Smith the starter, and neither of them looked back.

The second biggest (foreshadowing alert!) drive of the Buckeyes' season began with Smith hitting wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez for a 27-yard gain across the middle, all the way to the Michigan 41 yard line.

If there is one man that mid-2000's Michigan fans hate more than Rich Rodriguez, it may just be Ohio State's own Anthony Gonzalez. In three games against the Wolverines, Gonzalez turned 10 catches into 202 yards and a pair of scores, including a certain game-clinching reception (which will be touched on later).

Anyway, Ohio State followed up this first down with back-to-back incompletions to wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Roy Hall. The former incompletion came when the Buckeyes were in their "Shot-Ginn" formation which attempted to utilize wide receiver/overall athlete Tedd Ginn Jr.'s versatility and speed by placing him about five yards deep in the backfield, but split out much wider than a running back would normally align.


This particular incompletion came on a play in which Smith did a short roll out to his right toward Ginn, before setting his feet and attempting a backside post to Holmes. Remember that.

3rd and 10. Ohio State Ball. 7:14 remaining. Michigan 21 Ohio State 12

"We gave up big plays down the stretch," Michigan Defensive End Lamar Woodley

While Ohio State was driving, a long 3rd and 10 awaited a Buckeye offense that had not reached the endzone since their opening drive of the game.

Then Troy Smith started doing Troy Smith things. Escaping out of the pocket to his left, it appeared that Smith would pick up about eight yards before he would be forced out of bounds by Woodley. Not at all phased by the presence of the Steelers' future second round pick, Smith said to hell with stepping out of bounds, and instead cut back inside for a 14 yard run and an absolutely huge Buckeye first down.

The gutsy run by Smith was just one of several times he used his feet to help get himself out of a jam, but it would be his arm that would get Smith and the Buckeyes back on the scoreboard.

1st and 10. Ohio State Ball. 6:47 remaining. Michigan 21 Ohio State 12

"I was telling the coaches all game, ‘Get me the ball, it's my time, and I haven't done anything,'" Santonio Holmes

Lined up in the Shot-Ginn, Smith took the snap and rolled to his right towards Ginn, just like he had in the previous drive. There really wasn't anything different to this play than what the Ohio State offense had ran literally just three plays prior, but isn't that what Tressel ball is all about?

A Smith-dart down the middle to a streaking Holmes was the result of the play, and Holmes used his speed and leaping ability to take it all the way to the house. But there was a flag.


The (supposedly) unbiased Michigan officiating crew deemed this dive from Holmes as an "excessive celebration". Nevermind that Holmes was too busy attempting to avoid being beheaded by a Michigan safety, I guess we'll assume that Holmes was trying to showboat on his way to still being down two points.

"I think this is one they should get together and talk about and say ‘Come on this is a pretty big game'", Danielson explained on the broadcast. Could you imagine that response from the officiating crew over the loud speakers? "After further discussion, the receiver was deemed to have excessively celebrated his touchdown, but due to this being an important game, the penalty will not be enforced."

After Ohio State kicker Josh Huston (just after the Nugent era) made his extra point for a change (it's pretty hard to score a touchdown and have only 12 points when you think about it) Ohio State would now have to kickoff from their 20 yard line instead of the 35.

Kickoff. 6:40 remaining. Michigan 21 Ohio State 19

"I love close games, I love giving the fans heart attacks," Michigan Defensive Tackle Gabe Watson

After Ohio State pooched the kickoff in order to avoid the wrath of Michigan wide receiver Steve Breaston, the Michigan fullback FUMBLED THE BALL AND OH MY GOODNESS OHIO STATE MIGHT HAVE IT.

3 vs 1

That's right. Not one, not two, but three different Ohio State players signaled that they had recovered the loose ball near midfield, while everyone on Michigan seemed to just assume this was the point in the game when Ohio State took over. Unfortunately, the only opinion that matters in the picture above is that of the zebras, so instead of a game changing takeaway for the Buckeyes, Michigan took over with great field position at their own 48 yard line.

1st and 10. Michigan Ball. 6:30 remaining. Michigan 21 Ohio State 19

"There's no team that is used to playing with the score tight like Ohio State," Gary Danielson

Danielson said a lot of questionable things in the nine minutes and 45 seconds of game time I listened to, but this was not one of them. Growing up in the Tressel era meant a lot of winning, and a lot of sweating. A 13-10 Buckeyes victory could just as easily come against Akron as it could against Penn State. Since the overwhelming majority of these games ended in the Buckeyes' favor, as a Buckeye fan you just learned to accept this emotional roller-coaster that had become Ohio State football games.

A first down pass to Breaston gave Michigan the ball in Ohio State territory, and a field goal was beginning to look more and more likely.

But then the Buckeyes held. A one yard loss on 1st and 10 followed by an incompletion put the Wolverines in a 3rd and 11 situation. A six yard screen to Breaston followed, and Michigan was faced with a decision: go for the 51-yard field goal or punt?

Michigan got tricky and decided to do the ole "direct snap a field goal to the kicker and have him punt" play. This worked to perfection, as despite Ohio State reacting to the play well, the ball fell out of bounds at the Ohio State 12 yard line. 88 long yards away from paradise.

2nd and 10. Ohio State Ball. 3:11 Left. Michigan 21 Ohio State 19

"You know Troy is a guy who loves competition, and he wants to win so badly for this team, and they believe in him," Jim Tressel

Faced with almost the entire field ahead, one man would be given the keys that would make this Buckeye offense reach the promised land. First it was a pass to Ginn for nine yards. Then a hand-off to running back Antonio Pittman for two yards. Then an incomplete pass.

With the ball on their own 23 yard line, Ohio State had made very little ground thus far on their final drive, and it was time for their leader Smith to make a play. And make a play he did.

Smith rolled out right and was faced with a free Michigan rusher. While many Buckeye fans might remember one particular method for how Smith dealt with this situation in this very game, the spin move that Smith put on here in order to complete a crucial 11 yard first down pass to Ginn gets nowhere near the credit it deserves.

That nifty move from Smith took the ball to the Ohio State 34, and Smith followed this up with three straight completions to Ginn and Holmes collectively to move the ball to the Michigan 42 yard line.

It was at this time in the game when Brent and Gary cut to the sideline reporter who was apparently observing Josh Huston warm up to kick the potential game winning field goal. From the mouth of the side line reporter (Jack) himself: "I said to him (Huston), what do you think?"  He looked at me square in the eye and said "Jack I've dreamed about this since I was a little kid, in fact this year I've dreamed about it, I've made these field goals in a Michigan-Ohio State game in my mind, oh so many times.""

Not sure what Tressel's media availability protocol was for his player's during the fourth quarter of live games, but I'm not sure sideline interviews were allowed, even in a place as lawless as Ann Arbor. Luckily for Huston, we never had to find out if his belief in inception would be enough to send the entire state of Ohio to a BCS bowl.

1st and 10. Ohio State Ball. 0:47 Left. Michigan 21 Ohio State 19.

"There will be a lot of No. 10 jerseys and a lot of kids on Thanksgiving weekend trying to make those moves in a pile of leaves," Jim Tressel

That's right, Ohio State ran five plays in about two and a half minutes. Sure, Smith efficiently moved the ball down the field throughout this time, but in a moment of crisis this is still just plain ridiculous. The plan appeared to be for Ohio State to settle for 40-ish yard field goal to attempt to win the game, but that was before the future 2006 Heisman Trophy winner decided he'd rather win the game himself. What follows is simply described as "The Catch".

How Smith decided to run, dipped back to avoid a sack, never reset his feet, and launched a rope thirty yards downfield on the run to Gonzalez (who contorted his body sideways over-top a Wolverine defender in order to make the catch) is in my opinion the single most unbelievable play of my Buckeye-viewing life.

0:00 remaining. Michigan 21 Ohio State 25

"There is nothing that can make you feel better after losing this game," Lloyd Carr

On 2nd and goal, a hand-off meant to simply position the Buckeyes in the middle of the field to set up the game-winning field goal, turned into a game-winning touchdown for Antonio Pittman, at the expense of a poor Wolverines safety trying to defend the goal line. 24 seconds and a failed game winning Chad Henne drive later, Ohio State had won the Big Ten and their second straight game against that team up North.

All in all it took 3:54 of game clock and 88 yards of field to turn Anthony Gonzalez and Troy Smith into Buckeye legends. Sometimes we remember our Ohio State teams that failed to win it all by their shortcomings and losses. I won't let that happen to this 2005 squad, as I have never been so confident watching such a high pressure drive thanks to No. 10. Maybe Troy Smith didn't have enough talent to beat Florida in 2006 or to make it as a consistent quarterback in the NFL. That's just fine with me, cause if there's one thing Smith knew how to do, it was beat the Maize and Blue.