Welcome to “That Happened” where we dig deep into the who, why, and how of outliers in Ohio State athletics history.
For Ohio State fans, Troy Smith's play in the mid-2000s is a special memory. As a dual-threat quarterback, he bucked the Buckeye trend, playing more aggressively to push Ohio State into title contention.
Smith, however, almost never had his chance.
Before the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, there was Justin Zwick, one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation in 2001. After redshirting for a season and waiting for his turn behind Craig Krenzel, Zwick earned his shot in 2004.
Ohio State, which started the season ranked No. 9, kicked off the season with an easy dismantling of Cincinnati. Zwick, earning his first career start, had a shaky start, throwing for 213 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.
Against Marshall, however, the redshirt sophomore earned himself a spot in the record books.
After an early three-and-out, Zwick and Santonio Holmes struck first, scoring an 80-yard touchdown on the tenth play of the game. Later in the first quarter after a Marshall score, the pair would connect again for a 47-yard touchdown. He ended the first quarter with 169 yards.
After five consecutive possessions ending in a punt, the 14-7 contest was broken when Lydell Ross fumbled on the home team's 27-yard line. The Thundering Herds defense scooped it up and ran in for the score.
In response, Zwick led the Buckeyes down the field again, giving them a 21-14 advantage after a 20-yard throw to Roy Hall.
Coming out of the locker room, however, the explosive offense as seen in the first 30 minutes disappeared. Two straight punts followed by two consecutive turnovers destroyed Ohio State's edge as Marshall pulled even with just over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.
In an attempt to answer, Zwick threw his second pick in as many plays and the Buckeyes' fourth turnover of the game.
After a missed Marshall field goal and a punt by each team, the redshirt sophomore still had a chance to find his first-half form with under a minute left in the game. After completing a few passes to sneak into field goal range, Mike Nugent turned Zwick's nightmarish second half into a historic dream, nailing a 54-yard field goal to give the Bucks the win as time expired.
For Zwick, who was starting the second game of his career, it was an up-and-down affair. The signal-caller finished with 324 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions while completing 60% of his passes. At the time, it ranked No. 9 on Ohio State's single-game passing outputs.
Zwick went on to start the next four games for the Buckeyes but left with an injury against Iowa, opening the door for Troy Smith. After a 2005 quarterback controversy that likely cost the Buckeyes a game (a sentiment which also rang true a decade later), Troy Smith was named the full-time starter.
As for Justin Zwick, his game against Marshall accounted for nearly 27% of his passing yards on the season. Zwick led the team in total yards in 2004 with 1,241 yards, the lowest team-leading output since Kent Graham led the Buckeyes with 991 yards in 1991, making both the game and the 2004 Buckeyes offense an anomaly, even by Jim Tressel's standards.