COLUMBUS — Probably much later than he expected, Erick Smith had the biggest game of his Ohio State career in a 38-7 win over Army last Saturday.
The senior safety had a pass break-up that prevented a touchdown, a tackle on a kickoff to stop a long return that might have gone all the way and had six tackles in the first start of his career.
Smith arrived at Ohio State as a 4-star recruit out of Cleveland Glenville High School in 2014. By the next year he had moved up the depth chart to become Vonn Bell’s back-up.
But a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his 2015 season after six games and he spent last season as a back-up again.
Army’s Kell Walker was on the receiving end of both of Smith’s big plays last Saturday.
On the first, Smith deflected a pass intended for Walker near the goal line that could have gone for a touchdown in the second quarter. The other came in the third quarter when Smith brought down Walker at the Buckeyes’ 44-yard line on a kickoff return that Army nearly broke for even more yards and possibly a touchdown.
“I was just simply doing my job,” Smith said on Tuesday about the pass break-up. He said the same about the kick return. “Again, I was doing my job.”
“I can’t really describe the feeling, just really being out there and being able to play in front of all those fans and everything, it was a wonderful feeling,” he said.
Smith’s comeback story is similar enough to that of cornerback Marshon Lattimore, also a Glenville grad, who lost two seasons to hamstring problems before playing his way into being a first-round NFL draft choice this year, for comparisons to be made.
He says he has done some things the same way as Lattimore.
“I try to keep the same mindset, just take it day by day. Marshon did the same process, you just have to stay patient, take things day by day. Absolutely.
“I don’t go out of my way to be the guy or stand out. It’s a blessing. I’m grateful to be out there,” he said.
Fast healer: Quarterback Joe Burrow, who suffered a broken bone in his throwing hand on Aug. 21 and had surgery the next day, has been cleared to return.
At the time he was injured, Burrow was Ohio State’s No. 2 quarterback. While he was out, Dwayne Haskins was the back-up. Earlier this week, OSU coach Urban Meyer said it was not certain who is No. 2 this week against UNLV.
“We’ll make that decision as the week progresses. I think both quarterbacks give us an opportunity to move the ball,” Meyer said.
Starting quarterback J.T. Barrett was amazed how quickly Burrow was able to return.
“It was two weeks and he was throwing the ball again, which I thought was crazy. My man had a whole broken hand and then two weeks after surgery, he was throwing the ball,” Barrett said.
“It (the injury) was like right after camp. He was having a really good camp. That was kind of hard for him to process. Now he’s back, just trying to get back in the feel of things, adjusting to having a plate in his hand. I think he’s doing well.”
Dixon’s hamstring acts up: Wide receiver Johnnie Dixon’s comeback from three years of knee problems was put on hold when he wasn’t able to play against Army because of a hamstring problem.
The hope is that it is just a temporary setback, Meyer said.
“He tried to go in warm-ups and it wasn’t working. I don’t think it’s going to be long term. I think we caught it,” he said.
Least in the East: This will be the twelfth football game UNLV has played in the Eastern Time Zone and it is 0-11 in its previous games there.
It also will bring a 2-14 record against teams currently in the Big Ten into the game. Its two wins were over Wisconsin.
High school, not old school: UNLV coach Tony Sanchez coached Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School to six consecutive state championships and an 85-5 record before being hired to coach the Rebels in 2015.
Ohio State freshman quarterback Tate Martell was the starting quarterback on Bishop Gorman’s 2014 team and Haskell Garrett played on the defensive line.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.