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September 29, 2006

Ask the Experts: Home, sweet home

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Everyone knows home-field advantage can be a significant factor in college football.

The last time Ohio State went to Iowa, in 2004, it got trounced. Same for Georgia Tech when it traveled to Virginia Tech last year.

The Buckeyes exacted revenge last season in Columbus, Ohio. The Yellow Jackets will have no such luck. They're forced to return to Blacksburg, Va., this year because of a quirk in scheduling in the ACC.

This from the ACC office: "This is the transition year in terms of football scheduling because of expansion. 2006 is the first year of our 10-year football balanced schedule and in order to balance the home-away games in divisional play and to balance the overall conference schedule, there are five repeat-site games from the 2005 season: North Carolina at Miami, Florida State at Duke, Wake Forest at Florida State, Clemson at Wake Forest and Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech. This schedule was approved by the ADs two years ago. There will not be any more repeat-site games in back-to-back years."

Doesn't sound so bad for Florida State.

In this week's "Ask the Experts" we go in depth with these two games, the only matchups of top 25 teams on this week's schedule. It's No. 1 Ohio State at No. 13 Iowa, and sorry Tech fans, but it's No. 24 Georgia Tech at No. 11 Virginia Tech.

No. 1 Ohio State at No. 13 Iowa
Kevin Noon of BuckeyeGrove.com, talks about the Buckeyes:
The offense looked sluggish against Penn State. Hiccup or potential problem?
"I think it is too early to sound the alarm bells that the Ohio State offense is broken and in need of repair. Ohio State struggled last year against the Penn State defense and then was able to turn it around against the rest of its schedule. In baseball some hitters just can't solve a pitcher, and that very well could be the case here. Troy Smith appeared not to feel comfortable with the pass protection, and after his first interception of the season lost a little faith in the vertical passing game. I expect to see the Troy of old against Iowa when the Buckeyes go after the less-experienced Iowa cornerbacks."

What is the best chance for the Buckeyes to exploit the Hawkeyes defense?
"The Hawkeyes have not employed the nickel defense much in the past, and the Buckeyes have emptied the backfield and put out four- and five-receiver sets. If the Iowa linebackers have to drop into coverage against any of the Ohio State receivers it could be a long evening for the Hawkeyes. Ohio State will never fully back away from the run. If it weren't for the run last week, the Buckeyes would have been in trouble. Look for them to run Antonio Pittman early to see how many defenders Iowa will put in the box. Once OSU has a feel for that they will then go up top."

The Buckeyes defense came up with the big plays last week against Penn State. Talk about not only the development of the unit, but who the players are who have emerged so far.
"The Ohio State defense is not playing like a squad that lost nine starters last season. There still may be a couple of problems against the run, but on the whole the defense has performed very well. One of the biggest surprises has to be defensive end Vernon Gholston. He has stepped up and shown improvement in his pass rush from game to game. Another name that has to be mentioned is linebacker James Laurinaitis. He could be the next great linebacker in the Ohio State pipeline, which is saying a lot for a player who has only five career starts. He has terrific field awareness and is one of the top tacklers on the team. The last name that comes to mind is Malcolm Jenkins. Outside of a near mental gaffe of spiking the ball before crossing the goal line, the sophomore cornerback has been a steady performer in a secondary that most fans believed would be the Achilles' heel of the defense.

Tom Kakert of HawkeyeReport.com, talks about the Hawkeyes:
The Ohio State offense stumbled a bit against Penn State. What did Iowa learn about how to defend the Buckeyes?
"I guess we found out that perhaps Troy Smith is human. I think what Iowa probably learned is that they cannot have any slight defensive breakdowns, witness Smith's TD pass to (Brian) Robiskie on a broken play. But, also they learned that if you play solid and hard-hitting defense for four quarters you can limit the Buckeye offense to some degree."

The Hawkeyes running game has yet to break out this season. What are your expectations for it against Ohio State?
"That probably depends on the overall health of the Iowa offensive line. Last weekend against Illinois, both Dace Richardson and Rafael Eubanks left the game early with knee sprains. They are probably both going to be question marks all week, and that is two-fifths of the offensive line gone if they are both out. Iowa has yet to really have a breakout running game and no individual has topped 100 yards this season. After watching (Penn State's Tony) Hunt roll up good numbers last week there was probably some hope that Iowa could do the same, but it will certainly depend on the overall health of the offensive line."

Ohio State's defense has been better than advertised so far. Can Drew Tate exploit the Buckeyes secondary?
"What I expect Tate to do early on is go to Iowa's quick passing game, which is basically an extension of their running game. I expect we will see running back Albert Young in the slot quite a bit, which will spread OSU out. I also think Iowa will look to their tight ends, Scott Chandler and Tony Moeaki, to stretch the field. Then later in the game I think Tate will take his shots down the field a bit more. OSU has done well thus far as a secondary, but it has been against young quarterbacks. It will be very interesting to see how they fare against a three-year starter in Tate."

No. 24 Georgia Tech at No. 11 Virginia Tech
Brandon Helwig of JacketsOnline.com, talks about the Yellow Jackets:
How is the health of Yellow Jackets All-American receiver Calvin Johnson?
"Johnson strained his quadriceps against Troy on Sept. 16 and was limited in the week of practice leading up to the Virginia game last Thursday. He was a game-time decision. Johnson played and responded with the best game of his college career with 165 receiving yards, including touchdowns of 66 and 58 yards. Now, Johnson has had his leg stiffen up in practice this week and he's going to be a game-time decision again."

The trip to Virginia Tech was unkind last season. What's the key to getting the crowd out of it and hanging around with the Hokies?
"Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium is considered by many to be the toughest place to play in college football, and Georgia Tech learned all about it in their trip there a year ago. A scheduling quirk by the ACC puts the Jackets in Blacksburg, Va., again this year, so the current teams knows exactly what to expect in terms of environment. The Jackets lead the ACC with a 5.0-yard average per rush, but Virginia Tech isn't exactly Samford or Troy. The Hokies have been stingy on defense this year - particularly against the run - so it's unlikely Georgia Tech will be able to pound the ball at will. They'll need to open things up and involve Johnson as much as possible. If Reggie Ball can hit Johnson deep like they did against Virginia, it could be what the Jackets need to pull off the upset."

The Yellow Jackets have been impressive on defense. What will they do to try to limit Branden Ore?
"Georgia Tech's trademark over the last few years has been its defense. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta employs an aggressive, attacking, blitz-early-and-often scheme that often poses problems for offenses. Ore had a field day with 170 yards against Cincinnati, but Tech's defense will be the best he has faced this season. The key to limiting Ore will be the Jackets' linebacker corps, considered to be one of the best in the nation. The unit, led by KaMichael Hall and Philip Wheeler, needs to continue to put on the pressure and limit any big runs. Wheeler leads the team with 27 tackles, including six for loss and two sacks. Hall has 20 tackles."

Brian Mohr of HokieHaven.com, talks about the Hokies:
Who will step in for suspended starters DE Chris Ellis and SE Josh Morgan?
"With the loss of Ellis and Morgan for a violation of team rules on Saturday night, Frank Beamer and company will be looking for William Wall and Orion Martin to pick up the slack at defensive end. Justin Harper, Eddie Royal and the returning David Clowney will handle things at the receiver spot. Up to this point in the season, Ellis has been quiet and Walls and Martin have played solid. The problem with that is Ellis may not have made a lot of big plays, but he has been a force nonetheless. Martin registered four tackles last week, and Wall has shown signs of being a force with three sacks two weeks ago against Duke. Both players will need to move their game to a new level to keep the pressure on Reggie Ball. As far as filling in for Morgan, Tech has a good corps of receivers and his loss shouldn't be felt on offense nearly as much as it will be on special teams. He has been a force on blocked kicks this season."

Assess the progress of QB Sean Glennon.
"Glennon has shown brilliance and lackluster play in his four starts this season. There's no question he has a great arm and is fairly accurate, but he needs to be more confident and reduce his errors. In every game he has made a terrible mistake turning the ball over, and it often has led to points for the opposition. Despite that, it seems once he makes this mistake he loses the jitters and settles in for the rest of the game. The offense hasn't relied on him to win games, but he needs to continue to improve if he hopes to help this team to an ACC championship. Simply put, he's not going to win the game by himself, but he does enough to help the Hokies win with their strengths through the running game, defense and special teams."

What will Bud Foster do to try and limit Calvin Johnson?
"The Hokies secondary has played solid through the first four games, giving up only a handful of big plays through the air. That will be tested this week when Johnson comes to town. In order to stop him, the Hokies will need first and foremost to get pressure on Ball. Last year this plan worked well - Ball was under pressure all day and this resulted in errors by the Georgia Tech quarterback. To go along with that, if Ball doesn't have the time to throw he can't lay it up for Johnson to make a play. Expect the line and linebackers to blitz in order to force Georgia Tech to beat them elsewhere. In conjunction with the line and linebackers, certainly the secondary will need to step up. Foster rarely gives help to corners with a safety, and instead likes to have them in man coverage. This week, that won't be allowed with Johnson. Expect D.J. Parker and Aaron Rouse to provide plenty of help over the top for Brandon Flowers and Victor Harris in order to keep Johnson in check."



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