Smith Not Shaken by Red Zone Fumble
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Rod Smith-Eddie George comparison is now complete thanks to Smith’s debut performance against Akron in Ohio State’s season-opener.
Photo by Dan Harker
The redshirt freshman out of Indiana ran for 74 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in his first game with the Buckeyes. He showed good power running between the tackles and then turned on the jets on a 19 yard run to the outside.
It was obvious why the 6-3, 230-pound back has been associated with George, right down to his costly fumble inside the five-yard line.
“Coach talks about always securing the ball. I didn't really secure the ball like I usually do,” Smith said after the game.
“But that's a mistake that I'll have to live with and deal with, but it's in the past and I'm gonna get better.”
It was something George had to deal with his freshman year as well.
In 1992, he was the next big thing at Ohio State.
He was big, but it didn’t take away from his speed. He was powerful, but with a kind of gracefulness rarely seen in a back his size. George had scored three touchdowns in his third collegiate game and quickly became an instant hit with the fans, who labeled the freshman running back as “Touchdown Eddie.”
The success was short-lived, however, as George would single-handedly cost the Buckeyes a win against Illinois two weeks later. It was also mark the end of his instant impact at Ohio State.
The 6-3 tailback fumbled twice inside the five yard-line—one leading to a 96-yard return for a touchdown and the other to a 99-yard game-winning touchdown drive for the Fighting Illini.
With a loaded backfield that included Robert Smith and Raymont Harris, the OSU coaches decided to sit George down for the rest of the season (he would carry the ball only 12 more times that year).
Current Ohio State coach Luke Fickell and his staff did not have that same luxury Saturday after Smith put the ball on the ground near the goal line.
Photo by Dan Harker
“When you have two running backs he better jump back in the saddle,” Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman said.
“He better jump back in there. Now, if you had four guys, eh, maybe you could think about it a little bit, but not today. Not today when it was 100 degrees or whatever it was out there.”
The Buckeyes came into the fall with a backfield that might have rivaled the one from ’92, at least in depth. They returned a 1,000-yard rusher in Boom Herron and a pair of speed backs in Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry.
None of them played in the season-opener.
Instead, the Buckeyes had to rely on sophomore Carlos Hyde, and Smith, who kept the Buckeyes from taking an early 14-0 lead with his fumble at the Akron three-yard line on Ohio State’s second drive of the game.
“I really don't remember too much. I got happy (when I saw the goal line) and didn't secure the ball and it popped out,” Smith said.
“We were marching down the field and the fumble is what killed it.”
A fumble like that can also kill a kid’s confidence. Just ask Eddie. He thought about transferring from Ohio State after his freshman season, but Smith is not letting his rookie mistake keep him down.
“You can't let stuff like that get to you,” he said.
“It's the first quarter and you still have three more quarters to play. Just to know that it's not going to happen often, I think that will help.”
Smith was greeting by reassuring teammates as he came off the field after coughing up the football on his sixth collegiate carry.
“They kept saying ‘Keep your head up,’” Smith said.
And to his credit, he did.
The Buckeyes wouldn’t call on Smith to carry the ball again until midway through the second quarter, but they weren’t going shy about it when they finally did.
Facing a 4th-and-1 at the Akron 16 yard line, quarterback Joe Bauserman handed off to Smith, who carried it behind left tackle Andrew Norwell for a first down. He would carry it another 11 times for 35 yards, including a two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“I didn't want to settle for a field goal,” Smith said of his score.
“We were tired of settling for field goals. It just gave me chills. I was blessed. I'm proud to finally get my first touchdown. It was just a great moment for me.”
And for the coaches who didn’t give up on him after his early blunder.
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