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September 8, 2006

Experts' insight on the big games: Week 2

Week 2 viewer's guide
Week 2 breakdowns
The College Football Wire

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Each week Rivals.com will turn to its experts "on the ground" in the various college towns across America. We'll ask them the key questions about the nation's biggest games, seeking insight that goes beyond that of the TV talking heads.

The Week Two schedule has a couple of intriguing matchups - including the final game of what could turn out to be a home-and-home series for the ages and the renewal of a rivalry that was one of the best in the 1980s.

In Austin, Texas, it's the first regular-season matchup of No. 1 and No. 2 since Florida State and Florida tangled in 1996 when the Longhorns play host to top-ranked Ohio State. These teams had never played each other before last year's clash in Columbus, won by Texas 25-22 in the final minutes.

It propelled Mack Brown's squad to the national title. Will it do the same for Jim Tressel's bunch this year?

In South Bend, Ind., Penn State takes on Notre Dame for the first time since 1992. The teams had played every year since 1981, but the rivalry came to an abrupt end when the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten.

Brady Quinn didn't solidify himself as the Heisman front-runner against Georgia Tech in the Irish's 14-10 victory last Saturday. Can he handle Paul Posluszny and the Lions and re-establish himself in the eyes of Heisman voters, or will Buckeyes QB Troy Smith garner much of the attention?

Geoff Ketchum, publisher of Orangebloods.com, talks about the Longhorns:
How comfortable are the Texas coaches with Colt McCoy, and will they stick with him if the going gets rough against the Buckeyes?
The Texas coaches are not only comfortable with McCoy, but they are confident in him as well. This is his show on Saturday for better or worse. He's taking all of the first-team snaps under center and is THE starting quarterback. Barring a disastrous performance, McCoy will see all of the snaps.

Ohio State had its problems with Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe. How do Selvin Young/Jamaal Charles fit into the game plan this weekend?
This is the kind of game where the Texas offensive line needs to not only control the line of scrimmage, but dictate the flow of the game. NIU had success running the ball last week against Ohio State, and that should give the Longhorns confidence. The one thing that Texas knows it can do on offense is run the ball. Look for Jamaal Charles to play a very significant role.

What wrinkles will Gene Chizik throw at Troy Smith & Co.?
First, the Longhorns will want to stop the run before they do anything else on Saturday. If they can do that and make Ohio State somewhat one-dimensional, they'll take the first step in accomplishing what they want to do on defense. Look for the Longhorns to mix things up in the secondary. They'll play man and they'll play zone. Chizik loves to switch things up constantly and he'll want to try and frustrate Smith with his schemes.

Kevin Noon, Rivals.com Big Ten Producer, talks about Ohio State:
What is the biggest concern for the Ohio State defense against the Longhorns?
If the Ohio State defense has a tackling performance against Texas like it did against Northern Illinois it could be a long evening in Austin. During the Big Ten teleconference coach Jim Tressel made light of the fact the team did not perform up to anyone's expectations when it came to tackling. NIU running back Garrett Wolfe is an elusive back who makes people miss, but Ohio State cannot have the same problems when trying to wrap up Texas running backs Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles. The Buckeyes also have to be careful of not overpursuing and letting little screen passes turn into big plays. NIU had a lot of success hitting Wolfe on those types of plays, and don't think Mack Brown has not seen the success the Huskies had turning those into big plays.

Troy Smith can go a long way toward winning the Heisman and push the Buckeyes that much closer to a national title on Saturday in Austin. Is he as ready for this challenge as he looks after one game?
Troy Smith has had a year since last season's Texas game to mature and become the leader of the Ohio State offense. Last season he was platooned with Justin Zwick after serving his two-game suspension for taking improper benefits. Troy has matured from a run-first quarterback to a pass-first quarterback with the ability to run when necessary. Smith was sharp in the first 16 minutes of the NIU game, picking apart the Huskies defense. Smith has also been the hero in two Michigan games and stepped up when needed against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith not only has the confidence of the coaching staff, but his teammates as well. He is more than ready for the challenge he will face in Austin against quite possibly the toughest defense he will face in his college career.

Texas cornerback Tarell Brown could be out of this game. How could that impact the game plan?
I don't believe the potential of Tarell Brown being out of the game will have any bearing on the Ohio State game plan. The 'Horns have three other solid DBs. Having to bring in a smaller corner to replace Brown will not tempt Jim Tressel into airing it out more. Look for Ohio State to stick with the same game plan as always - where it looks to control the clock with a solid running game and a moderate dose of vertical passing to open up running lanes later. Even with the multitude of riches on the offensive side of the ball, you will not see Tressel turn into Mike Leach to take on the top team of the Big 12.

Pat Tholey, of BlueWhiteIllustrated.com, talks about the Nittany Lions:
What is the key for Anthony Morelli against the Irish?
In his first start on the road, Morelli needs to stay poised and not get rattled early on by the Notre Dame crowd. He threw a lot of safe passes last Saturday against Akron and will need to do the same against the Irish defense to build confidence. If he tries to force throws that aren't there, it will lead to Penn State's demise.

Will Penn State seek to exploit the Notre Dame secondary with Derrick Williams and Deon Butler?
They'll not only use Williams and Butler, but Jordan Norwood, Terrell Golden, Chris Bell and quite possibly A.J. Wallace. Penn State is loaded with speed and athleticism at wide receiver and will pull out all of the stops to create mismatches with Notre Dame's defense. Williams was used primarily as a receiver last Saturday, but he can line up in the backfield, in the slot and even under center.

Do you expect the defense to attack Notre Dame and blitz like Georgia Tech did?
Penn State will blitz to a certain extent, but they also don't want to leave their young secondary in one-on-one coverage with veteran receivers like Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija. Where the Nittany Lions might hurt Notre Dame is with the speed of the defense. Tim Shaw is now lining up as a standup defensive end and was extremely quick in getting by Akron's tackles. Look for the Lions to do the same and try to exploit freshman right tackle Sam Young.

Tim Prister, publisher of IrishIllustrated.com , talks about Notre Dame:
Are there any concerns about the offense after the underwhelming showing against Georgia Tech?
An offense doesn't game plan toward individuals as much as they do strengths and weaknesses. Paul Posluszny is a strength, so it would be foolish to come up with a game plan to try to exploit him unless there are weaknesses there that only the Notre Dame coaching staff is aware of. More likely, the Irish offense will try to attack a defensive line with three new starters and a secondary with four new starters.

Will the Irish offense game plan around Paul Posluszny or is it business as usual?
Right up the middle and on the outside. I would think they would want to test the defensive tackles and cornerbacks.

The Irish defense proved resilient against Georgia Tech. Assess the matchup between the secondary and Penn State's talented group of wide receivers.
It's a good question because this could be where the game is won or lost. It's difficult enough to stop a talent like Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson. Multiply that times three against Penn State with Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. If you focus on one, the other two will burn you. The whole key is up front for the Irish. If Notre Dame generates a pass rush against a Nittany Lions line with four new starters, that trio's effectiveness will be negated. You can't like Notre Dame's chances if Anthony Morelli has plenty of time to throw. I'm not real confident that the Irish will get that pass rush on a consistent basis, so look for the trio to have some success. Another key, of course, is the performance of Morelli. He's making his first road start, so don't expect him to be pinpoint in Notre Dame Stadium from start to finish.

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