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January 27, 2007
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MOBILE, Ala. -This time, Troy Smith was smiling after the game.
The Ohio State star outplayed Florida's Chris Leak in a rematch of quarterbacks from the national championship game, leading the North to three scores and a 27-0 win over the South in the Senior Bowl on Saturday.
Smith's numbers weren't spectacular on a cold, rainy day. He completed only five of 15 passes for 52 yards with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Washington State's Jason Hill.
But the Heisman Trophy winner made fewer mistakes than Leak, who had a fumble that led to a quick touchdown for the North.
"Just getting a win today meant a lot," said Smith, grinning widely as raindrops pelted his helmet. "I feel pretty good, but there's always room for improvement."
Smith said his next stop is the NFL combine in Indianapolis next month, but he's not sure how many of the workouts in which to participate.
"I've got to talk to my agent," he said.
Both Smith and Leak were fighting to improve their standing in a draft that will include Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who didn't play because of an injury, and LSU's JaMarcus Russell, who was ineligible to play as a junior.
Some have questioned whether Smith is big enough to make it in the NFL at 6-foot-1, but Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said no one should question the quarterback's ability.
"There's just a lot of creativity he brings to an offense, and it's fun to have honestly," said Gruden, who coached the North. "I've kind of forgotten how much fun that is."
Starting during his last chance to impress NFL scouts in a college game, Smith directed a nine-play, 75-yard opening drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown run off right tackle by Penn State's Tony Hunt, who ran for 38 yards on eight carries and was selected the game MVP.
The South had to punt after Leak took a sack for an 8-yard loss. The North answered with a 38-yard field goal by Mason Crosby of Colorado, who capped a 30-yard drive that included Smith's 13-yard completion to Rutgers' Brian Leonard for a first down on fourth-and-7.
"We asked (Smith) to make a wide variety of throws, but the big play he made was the fourth-down conversion," Gruden said.
Leak, whose Florida Gators demolished Ohio State 41-14 to win the BCS Championship earlier this month, was 5-of-9 passing for 23 yards. UTEP's Jordan Palmer, the brother of the Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer, completed five of eight passes for 91 yards for the South.
With things already going badly, Leak was blindsided by Nebraska Jay Moore and fumbled at his own 26. The turnover set up a 7-yard TD pass from Michigan State's Drew Stanton to Aundrea Allison of East Carolina.
Leak didn't talk to reporters after the game, but Smith said he and Leak spent time together in Mobile before the bowl.
"I talked to Chris a whole bunch this week and let him know how much I respect him as a quarterback," Smith said.
Crosby added a 21-yard field goal for the North.
Hunt led all rushers followed by Hill, who gained 35 yards on a nifty reverse down the left side that helped set up the North's opening touchdown.
Patrick Willis of Ole Miss lead all defenders with 11 tackles and was named the South's defensive player of the game.
The game was sold out, but the 40,646-seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium was barely half full at the start.