The Ohio State football team needed a big play at a key time. Then, with the suddenness of a lightning strike, sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller found Devin Smith for a game-changing moment. This time it happened at Michigan State, helping the Buckeyes escape East Lansing with a 17-16 victory.
"You've just got to be ready when opportunity comes," Smith said. "I made a play for this football team and I couldn't ask for anything better."
The Spartans had just taken the lead thanks to a 29-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Maxwell to Keith Mumphrey, a score with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter that was aided in a big way by missed tackles. The Spartan Stadium crowd was getting loud as the Buckeyes took over on offense.
Ohio State took over at its own 26-yard line. Miller started the drive with a 6-yard pass to Carlos Hyde before Hyde carried for a 3-yard gain to set up a third-and-1 at the 35. Instead of rushing the ball in the short-yardage situation, however, OSU head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman chose to go for a big play.
"I was kind of watching and said it was the right time," Meyer said. "What a great throw and catch. Devin Smith is becoming a very good player right in front of our eyes."
The coaches signaled in a pass play intended to spring Smith deep down the right side one-on-one against Michigan State fifth-year senior cornerback Johnny Adams. Smith got the signal from Miller and upon the snap gave Adams, who Smith had faced in high school when he was a freshman and Adams was playing at Akron (Ohio) Butchel, a quick move before darting down the field. A shorter post route drew in the safety, leaving Smith alone against Adams. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Smith got a step on the Spartan. Miller then lofted a perfectly-placed pass that landed in Smith's arms.
The sophomore wide receiver did the rest, breaking Adams' desperation tackle at around the 25 en route to the end zone. The 63-yard score gave Ohio State a 16-13 lead and Drew Basil's extra-point boot extended the lead to four.
"It was unbelievable," Smith said of his post-TD emotions. "Coach (Urban) Meyer always talks about making plays for this team. At halftime, he was telling everybody to make a play. And I made a play."
Making big plays is nothing new for Smith. No one has likely forgotten his game-winning touchdown last season against Wisconsin, same for his winning score earlier this season against Cal.
"Words can't explain how good I feel right now, making plays for this football team and getting a win."
Smith admitted to being a little antsy before the big play, saying he felt the go route would result in a big play for the Buckeyes.
"All game I knew I could beat him deep," Smith said. "We were hoping we were going to get something. Coach Herman didn't call any (deep passes), but he called it at the right time. We made the play.
"On the sideline I kept telling Braxton, ‘Man, we've got to run the go route. We've got to do something. They can't guard us,' " Smith added.
Almost as important as the key TD connection was the offense's success in running out the final 4:10 off the clock in the fourth quarter. Michigan State cut the deficit to one thanks to a 48-yard field goal by Dan Conroy with 7:07 remaining in regulation but was forced to punt on its next possession. That gave OSU the ball with a chance to force the Spartans to use their two remaining timeouts and potentially run out the clock.
The Buckeyes did just that, picking up three first downs to end the game. Before Miller took a knee on the final three plays, Ohio State had rushed six times for 33 yards. The offense sealed the win when Hyde converted a third-and-4 with a 5-yard rush.
"I feel like that last four minutes was everybody ripping their heart out, everybody giving it to the team and doing what we talked about all week," junior center Corey Linsley said. "Putting the team on our back as an offensive line, it felt great."