SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Notre Dame linebacker Corey Mays insists it's essential to be aggressive in trying to stop Troy Smith.
Defensive end Victor Abiamiri (Gilman) qualifies that by saying the aggressiveness must be cut with a heavy dose of discipline.
And coach Charlie Weis insists that nobody on the Ohio State roster scares him more than Smith, the rocket-armed, fleet-footed quarterback.
Smith's numbers easily explain Weis' trepidation: 545 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, 1,940 passing yards, 14 touchdown passes, just four interceptions, a 62.2 percent completion rate and a pass efficiency rating of 158.45, seventh best in the country. Smith's 2,485 yards account for more than half of Ohio State's total offense of 4,451 yards.
But to Weis, the most frightening thing about Smith, who will lead Ohio State (9-2) against the Irish (9-2) today in the Fiesta Bowl, is not just the numbers, but the way he compiled them.
"What scares me is anytime you have a quarterback who started out with a reputation of being a runner first and a thrower second and now has reversed those roles, you have a problem," Weis said.
"It's the multidimensional players that scare you most. He knows he's a passer first and a runner second, and that's the toughest thing to teach a quarterback that has athleticism."
Smith augments that athleticism with leadership, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
"He's got a certain confidence and aura about himself that, hey, if you guys will follow me, we have a chance," Tressel said.
That aura was dulled considerably at the end of the 2004 season when Smith, just a week before the Buckeyes' Alamo Bowl game against Oklahoma State, was suspended for accepting $500 from a booster.
His suspension extended through the beginning of this season. He didn't start the September loss to No. 2 Texas. And he didn't regain his starting job until the next week, when Ohio State played San Diego State.
But the early-season adversity toughened Smith, Tressel said.
"He's grown a lot, and like all of us, you grow sometimes through your successes and sometimes through your setbacks," Tressel said.
Smith hasn't seen many setbacks lately.
In the Buckeyes' regular-season finale against rival Michigan, Smith was 27 of 37 for 300 yards and one touchdown, bringing the team back from a nine-point deficit in the final 7 minutes, 49 seconds by putting together two late touchdown drives of 69 and 88 yards.
"He's just a versatile athlete," Mays said. "You might think he's going to pass and you're right there in his face, and then he takes off for 20 or 30 yards."
Said Abiamiri: "You might see him one second, and he'll disappear right in front of you, so you have to play disciplined football and stay in your rush lanes. You can still play aggressively, but there's a difference between playing stupid and playing aggressively with discipline."
Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said Smith's arm has become as potent as his feet.
"He's an unbelievable runner, but people don't realize he has a huge arm," Hawk said. "And he's definitely not antsy in the pocket."
Said Weis: "He now understands that he'll run when he has to, not when he wants to."
Avani Patel writes for the Chicago Tribune.
The BCS Bowls
Fiesta Today, 5 p.m. No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Notre Dame
Sugar Today, 8:30 p.m. No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 11 West Virginia
Orange Tomorrow, 8 p.m. No. 3 Penn State vs. No. 22 Florida State
Rose Wednesday, 8 p.m. No. 1 USC vs. No. 2 Texas
TV: All games on chs. 2, 7