Ohio State's Smith in different position

Quarterback to play much bigger role vs. Texas this season

National notebook

September 08, 2006|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN REPORTER

Beyond offering a defense of his current backup, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith considers his team's 2005 home loss to Texas a matter best left alone.

After all, tomorrow night's showdown between college football's top-ranked teams isn't in Columbus; it's in Austin. If Vince Young is in attendance, he won't be in pads, nor will A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter or Anthony Schlegel, a trio of star linebackers from last year's Buckeyes defense.

On the other hand, chances are that Smith will play a major role in his top-ranked team's fate, a change from the last meeting with the Longhorns, now ranked No. 2.

"What happened is what happened," Smith said in a teleconference earlier this week. "Everything happens for a reason."

To be specific, Smith violated NCAA rules by taking money from a booster, leading to a suspension for last year's season opener. That led to a quarterback rotation with Justin Zwick in the second game, against Texas in a battle of top 10 teams - an arrangement that left Smith on the sideline during the team's final drive.

If the senior from Cleveland believes that his presence on the field would have stopped Texas' eventual drive to a national title, he's not letting on.

"That was part of the game plan, and hopefully we would have been able to perform it to the best of our abilities," Smith said. "But people forget that it was a pass that Justin threw to one of the tight ends [Ryan Hamby], and the tight end didn't bring the pass in. If he pulls that in, it's a different ballgame."

Then again, perhaps Zwick and Smith would have shared the quarterback job for the rest of the season if Hamby had caught the ball. Instead, Smith took over, progressing from a strong finish in his sophomore season to a 2005 campaign that ended with him running a clinic on Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl - accounting for 408 of Ohio State's 617 yards of total offense.

With Smith behind center, the team's offense went from being an average operation to something un-Buckeyelike, averaging 38.2 points over the final seven games of the season.

So the normally defense-minded Ohio State will need the offense to carry most of the burden against opponents like Texas, because nine starters are gone from last year's defense.

But as Longhorns coach Mack Brown told The Dallas Morning News: "At Ohio State, they don't lose people, they just replace people. They reload just like we do, and they've got great players on defense."

Of course, Texas has its own issues to deal with on defense. Starting cornerback Tarell Brown is out for tomorrow's game after an arrest this week on drug and weapon charges.

Alaeze to play

Melvin Alaeze, who originally signed with Maryland, is expected to get playing time tomorrow for Illinois in the team's game at Rutgers.

The former Randallstown defensive end wound up in Champaign in early August, barely six months since he had signed with the Terps and roughly six weeks after drug charges and SAT struggles derailed any hopes of playing in College Park.

After Maryland rescinded its scholarship offer to Alaeze on June 21, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound All-Metro player enrolled at Illinois, where former Maryland assistant coach Mike Locksley is offensive coordinator on Ron Zook's staff.

Alaeze was cleared Aug. 31 by the NCAA Clearinghouse to participate in the Illini's opener against Eastern Illinois, but he did not play.

"I know this is a second chance," Alaeze told the State Journal-Register of Springfield. "Illinois gave me an opportunity to show that I'm a better person. I won't let anyone down."

Tennessee rebounds

Until the 2005-06 academic year, you could bank on three things in Knoxville, Tenn.

The men's basketball coach is usually in the honeymoon stage or on the way out; Pat Summitt's team is great; and Tennessee football is near-great.

Phillip Fulmer's football team wrecked that arrangement last year. The Volunteers went 5-6 and fell short of a bowl bid for the first time since 1988.

Well, Tennessee football appears to be back, after routing former No. 9 California last weekend and moving up to No. 11 this week.

But given Cal's inability to tackle anyone, one would be advised to stand by for the Vols' game against Florida next weekend before bestowing any guru titles upon David Cutcliffe - former mentor of Eli Manning at Mississippi - for Erik Ainge's performance last weekend.

On the other hand, the defense and special teams provided enough proof that "near-great" could be on the way.

christian.ewell@baltsun.com

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