STILLWATER — Jeremy Smith took a fourth-quarter handoff from Brandon Weeden inside the 10-yard line against Arizona and charged through the left side of the Oklahoma State offensive line.
He spun. He broke five tackles. He kept his balance. He dove. He scored.
“You pretty much just got to lower your pads and go get it,” Smith said.
That's become a common theme for the sophomore. Even though Smith is not OSU's featured running back, he has found the end zone in six consecutive games and has become the power option to complement the versatility of Joseph Randle.
He's the back that uses his strength to blow through defensive ends on a run to the outside. The one that can turn a fourth-and-1 play into a 6-yard gain. The one that the Cowboys count on in crucial goal-line and short-yardage situations.
“When I turn to hand the ball to him, you can tell the difference,” OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “He clamps down (on the ball), he snatches it out of my hand and goes. That's when he runs through guys, and he'll get an extra yard.”
But there was a time when it looked like Smith might never get to this point. In the spring of 2010, he considered leaving OSU.
Smith still shies away from opening up about his emotions that spring.
“It was just old stuff,” Smith said.
But OSU coach Mike Gundy remembers the numerous meetings he and Smith had in his office to discuss Smith's future. Sometimes, they were alone. Sometimes, it was them and former running backs coach Robert Gillespie. Sometimes, it was them and Jeremy's mom, Terra Smith-Hughes.
“He's a good kid that was just having a hard time,” Gundy said. “We all go through it. It's part of life.”
Smith occasionally missed practice that spring. But he ultimately decided he wanted to stay in Stillwater.
The choice to stick around is paying off.
The OSU coaching staff never officially declared Smith the Cowboys' short-yardage and third-down back — at least not to him. It just happened naturally, Smith said. And he embraces the responsibility.
Even with two-time All-American Kendall Hunter occupying the backfield for OSU last season, Smith started to be utilized in the role toward the end of the year, scoring in each of the Cowboys' last four games.
That trend has continued this season, despite sitting behind Randle on the OSU depth chart.
Take the fourth quarter against UA as an example of the impact Smith can make.
After his bruising touchdown run, Smith carried the ball seven times for 45 yards on the Cowboys' next possession and nearly got in the end zone again.
On that drive alone, he ran over UA defensive end C.J. Parish, slipped a Wildcat tackler that attempted to go for his ankles on fourth down, broke another tackle on an 11-yard gain that got the Cowboys inside the 10 and was stopped just shy of the goal line two plays later.
Smith was fresh. The UA defense was not.
Bad news for the Wildcats.
Smith has no fancy secret for his success in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He just has the mentality to be physical every time he touches the ball — and to have his eyes on the first-down marker or the end zone.
“There has to be determination in it,” Smith said. “There are no cuts when you do it. It's just straight downhill running.”
Smith will return to his hometown of Tulsa this weekend when the Cowboys face the Golden Hurricane on Saturday night. He will be back in H.A. Chapman Stadium, where he played twice during his junior year at Union High School, including in the 2007 Class 6A state championship game.
And if recent history holds up, he will likely find himself in the end zone at some point during the contest.
Smith is glad to be going back home this way — as a player. He's overcome his struggles. And he's thankful to still be a Cowboy.
“It's actually been a pretty good story,” Smith said. “It was a lot, but I'm happy I'm still here. I'm extremely happy, because we're about to do big things. I'm happy I never walked away.”