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September 26, 2006

Flaws exposed, teams scramble into Week 5

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This week will be a time for quick thinking.

Ohio State's win over Penn State came at a price. The Buckeyes struggled to 253 yards of total offense while allowing yet another team to run the ball successfully. The nation's No. 1 team will have to adjust in a hurry before a trip to Iowa City, where the Buckeyes lost to Iowa 33-7 in 2004.

In the SEC, Georgia will have to find an answer at quarterback when it returns to league play with a trip to Ole Miss. Alabama will have little time to sulk about its overtime loss to Arkansas before the Crimson Tide leaves for Florida.

As for Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish have been knocked down a few pegs by Michigan and Michigan State after all the preseason hype in South Bend, Ind. Now Notre Dame will have to take on a quietly undefeated Purdue team, which could test the Irish secondary.

Who's ready? Who isn't? Is there a team about to make a jump in the rankings? Find out the answers to these and other questions that will shape Week 5:

Five Questions for Week 5
1. What does Ohio State need to address before heading to Iowa?
Ohio State may be the top-ranked team in the country, but the Buckeyes are not without their flaws. Linebacker James Laurinaitis has contributed game-changing turnovers, but that doesn't erase the struggles of the run defense. Penn State's Tony Hunt and Texas both averaged 5.5 yards (or more) per carry. Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe averaged 6.6 per rush against the Buckeyes. Troy Smith's scramble and 37-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie was the key play of the game against Penn State. Beyond that, Smith was 11 of 21 for 78 yards and two interceptions. Ohio State might need another big game from Antonio Pittman against Iowa, because the Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense.
2. Who will be Georgia's quarterback?
The good news is Georgia avoided a disastrous loss to Colorado with a fourth-quarter rally. The bad news is the Bulldogs found a quarterback quandary in the process. Redshirt freshman Joe Cox replaced true freshman Matthew Stafford and led Georgia's two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. Coach Mark Richt said the choice between Stafford and Cox will wait until Saturday, when the Bulldogs play Ole Miss at Oxford. Coaches insist Stafford, who was 8-for-16 for 76 yards, did not play poorly and the decision to go to Cox was a move intended to spark the rest of the offense. Stafford and Cox will split first-team snaps in practice this week. And remember, Richt rotated quarterbacks David Greene and D.J. Shockley with success for two seasons.
3. What's wrong with Alabama?
Things are looking glum in Tuscaloosa after a 24-23 overtime loss to Arkansas. Things could get worse with road trips to Florida, Tennessee and LSU and a home game against Auburn remaining. Kicker Leigh Tiffin, who missed three field goals and an extra point, got the brunt of fans' frustrations after the loss to the Razorbacks. However, there are several issues at hand. Running back Ken Darby, who ran for more than 1,200 yards a year ago, has yet to have a 100-yard day and has averaged 3.4 yards per carry. On the plus side, the passing game has been effective with John Parker Wilson completing 16 of 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns against Arkansas. Receivers Keith Brown and D.J. Hall are among the top five in the SEC in receiving yards per game. Coach Mike Shula will have to make some adjustments - and quickly - before a road trip to Florida on Saturday.
4. Can Notre Dame fix the problems exposed by Michigan and Michigan State?
The answer could be no, and it might not matter. Against the Wolverines and Spartans, Notre Dame has been outscored 37-7 in the first quarter, has gone 3-for-25 on third down, turned the ball over seven times and hasn't broken a run longer than 10 yards. Darius Walker rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last year. He is running behind the same line as a year ago - other than freshman tackle Sam Young - so he could improve on the 21 carries for 72 yards he has had in the last two weeks. The defensive strides made against Georgia Tech and Penn State now appear to be a mirage. Purdue, which is in the top 10 nationally in pass offense, scoring offense and total offense, will be the last remaining test before the season finale against USC. Notre Dame could still go into the USC game with 10 wins, good enough for a BCS berth regardless of the outcome.
5. Who will be the next non-BCS breakthrough team?
Texas Christian's BCS bowl hopes got a major boost following a convincing win over Texas Tech in Week 3. That said, there are several other non-BCS conference teams that could be poised for a breakout in coming weeks. The best candidate is Boise State, with Utah and Houston as possible dark horses. The Broncos, who beat the only major conference team on their schedule handily (42-14 over Oregon State), head to Utah this week. The Utes, too, could ease their way back into the picture by facing Boise State and TCU at home in back-to-back weeks. Houston (4-0) beat Oklahoma State on Saturday and will face a struggling Miami team in the Orange Bowl on Saturday.
Top Five Games of Week 5
1. No. 1 Ohio State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at No. 13 Iowa (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten), 8 p.m., ABC
The Big Ten title goes through Iowa City, with the Hawkeyes playing host to Ohio State and Michigan. This will be the Buckeyes' toughest test until Michigan comes to Columbus in the last week of the season.
2. No. 24 Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-0 ACC) at No. 11 Virginia Tech (4-0, 2-0 ACC), 3:30 p.m., ABC
The top team in the ACC goes up against the best player in the ACC in Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson. With the Hokies shorthanded following the suspensions of Chris Ellis and Josh Morgan, it should be closer than last year's 51-7 Virginia Tech win.
3. Alabama (3-1, 1-1 SEC) at No. 5 Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC), 3:30 p.m., CBS
Alabama is coming off an embarrassing loss to Arkansas. The Gators' 31-3 loss to the Tide last year was the lowlight of their season. Both teams need a win this week.
4. Purdue (4-0) at No. 12 Notre Dame (3-1), 2:30 p.m., NBC
Notre Dame goes up against another Big Ten team with a powerful offense. Can Purdue do what Michigan State could not and seal the deal?
5. No. 2 Auburn (4-0, 2-0 SEC) at South Carolina (3-1, 1-1 SEC), 7:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
Steve Spurrier seems to have found an answer on offense with Syvelle Newton at quarterback, but will it be enough to pull a stunning upset of Auburn?

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