September 29, 2006

Game of the Week: No. 1 Ohio State at No. 13 Iowa

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Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith is the nation's most valuable college football player.


Then you might get an argument from Iowa quarterback Drew Tate.

"Without (Troy Smith), Ohio State is not the same," Tate said. "I look at him and kind of think of Vince Young because, by far, he contributed more to his team last year than any other person did to his team. The year before that, that's what Alex Smith was to Utah. I think Troy Smith kind of fits that."

The twist to this argument is that Tate might mean just as much to Iowa as Smith means to Ohio State. The two quarterbacks face each other Saturday night (8:13 p.m., ABC) when the top-ranked Buckeyes travel to No. 13 Iowa.

Tate's value has grown increasingly evident this season.

When an abdominal strain forced Tate to miss a Sept. 19 game with Syracuse, the Hawkeyes scored just one touchdown in regulation time and needed double overtime to hand Syracuse its 11th consecutive loss. Iowa has averaged more than 30 points per game in Tate's three starts.

Tate disputes the notion that he must carry this offense, even though the third-year starter has thrown more career touchdown passes than any Iowa quarterback but former Heisman Trophy runner-up Chuck Long.

"This is a team game," Tate said. "It's going to take all of us, not just me. If I play within myself, don't turn the ball over and just try not to make mistakes, we've got a good defense and real good special teams. It's not just the quarterback in our program. That's not how our offense is built. They don't want the quarterback to do everything."

But the quarterback may need to do more than usual Saturday.

Iowa has struggled to run the ball this season. After compiling 1,334 yards last year, Albert Young has rushed for only 280 yards through the Hawkeyes' first four games.

Because of that stagnant ground attack, the Hawkeyes might not outplay the Buckeyes this weekend unless Tate outplays Smith.

Ohio State has defended the pass well this season despite having four new starters in its secondary, but the Buckeyes still haven't faced a quarterback this good.

"The first game, we faced a senior who had kind of split time his whole life," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "The second game we faced a guy (making) his second start of his life. The third game was a redshirt sophomore who had played a decent amount and then this past weekend a guy in his fourth start.

"Drew Tate, I don't know what number start this is for him, but he's good. So it will be a great test for us."

Tate already has tested the Buckeyes a couple of times before.

He threw three touchdown passes and rushed for a fourth score two years ago in a 33-7 triumph over the Buckeyes. Ohio State earned revenge last year by sacking Tate five times in a 31-6 whipping.

The Buckeyes harassed Tate so much last year that he spiked the ball in frustration at one point, providing a glimpse of the competitive fire that has allowed the 6-foot Tate to develop into one of college football's top quarterbacks.

Tate doesn't expect to have a similar outburst Saturday, no matter how this game unfolds. Tate and his coaches agree that he now is more mature and more relaxed.

"The big story with Drew is he has really learned from his experience," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He's still a very fiery and competitive guy, but he lets his emotions work for him a little better now than a couple of years ago. That's part of growing.''

Tate will spend Saturday night trying to show the Buckeyes just how much he's grown in the past year.

Week 5 Game of the Week: No. 1 Ohio State at No. 13 Iowa
Ohio State running game vs. Iowa run defense: Ohio State's Antonio Pittman averaged 5.5 yards per carry last week against a Penn State defense that had been giving up only 1.9 yards per rush. Iowa has a strong front seven, but the Hawkeyes aren't as stingy as Penn State against the run. Edge: Ohio State.
Ohio State passing game vs. Iowa pass defense: Iowa had success against a mobile quarterback two weeks ago in a 27-17 victory over Bret Meyer and Iowa State. Perhaps that game helped the Hawkeyes prepare for Ohio State, even though Troy Smith isn't running as much as usual this year. Iowa's talented defensive-end tandem of Kenny Iwebema and Mitch King must put pressure on Smith because the Hawkeyes' secondary isn't deep enough to cover all those good Ohio State receivers. Edge: Ohio State.
Iowa running game vs. Ohio State run defense: The return of Albert Young figured to give Iowa an excellent rushing attack this season, but that hasn't been the case. Although the Hawkeyes have averaged 4.1 yards per carry, their running game hasn't established much of a rhythm. Young will need to have a breakthrough performance against an Ohio State defense that allowed Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe and Penn State's Tony Hunt to have big games. Edge: Even.
Iowa passing game vs. Ohio State pass defense: Despite having four new starters in its secondary, Ohio State has collected eight interceptions while allowing only three touchdown passes. Then again, the Buckeyes haven't faced any quarterbacks nearly as good as Tate. Young, tight end Scott Chandler and true freshman wide receiver Dominique Douglas give Tate plenty of talented targets. This could be the game in which Ohio State's secondary finally shows its inexperience. Edge: Iowa
Ohio State kicking game vs. Iowa kicking game: Iowa has the place-kicking advantage with Kyle Schlicher, whose .811 career field-goal percentage is tied for third in the nation. Both teams have confidence in their punters: A.J. Trapasso for Ohio Sate and Andy Fenstermaker for Iowa. But the Hawkeyes don't have a kick returner who compares to Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. Edge: Ohio State.
Ohio State coaches vs. Iowa coaches: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel owns a 3-1 record against Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock deserves plenty of credit for the restructuring of the Buckeyes' defense, which has allowed just eight points per game despite returning only two starters from last year. Edge: Ohio State.
Ohio State will win if: The Buckeyes beat Iowa last year by putting constant pressure on Tate. That formula should work again this season. If Ohio State puts pressure on Tate and protects Smith, the Buckeyes should survive their second night road game against a ranked team in four weeks.
Iowa will win if: Iowa needs Young to regain his 2005 form and give the Hawkeyes a balanced offense. If Iowa is able to run the ball effectively against Ohio State, that should allow Tate to pick his spots and attack the Buckeyes' secondary.
X-Factors: Iowa DE Kenny Iwebema and Mitch King.
After allowing Ohio State to wreak havoc on Tate all day last year, the Hawkeyes would love to return the favor Saturday. Iwebema is one of the Big Ten's most dangerous pass rushers. He has recorded 4 tackles for loss and three sacks already this year despite serving a suspension in the season opener and leaving last week's victory over Illinois early with a shoulder injury that shouldn't bother him Saturday. King arguably is the Hawkeyes' most improved player this year with a team-high five sacks. If Iowa's defensive ends don't put pressure on Smith, the Heisman Trophy candidate could pick apart the Hawkeyes' thin secondary.
Notes: Iowa will be playing without backup defensive end Alex Kanellis (appendix) and backup safety Devan Moylan (hamstring). The status of starting offensive tackle Rafael Eubanks (knee) and center Dace Richardson (knee) is uncertain. This marks only the second game in the history of Kinnick Stadium to kick off later than 5 p.m. Iowa lost 24-7 to Miami in a 1992 game that started at 7 p.m. local time. Iowa owns a 0-9-1 record against top-ranked opponents, with the lone tie coming against Notre Dame in 1953. Iowa is seeking its first 5-0 start since 1995. This rivalry isn't known for nail-biting finishes. Six of the last seven Ohio State-Iowa games have been decided by at least 25 points. The Buckeyes have won nine of the last 10 games in this series, though they lost 33-7 two years ago in their last trip to Iowa. Ohio State owns an all-time record of 16-6-2 in Iowa City. Ohio State hasn't given up a rushing touchdown all season. The Buckeyes haven't allowed any touchdowns in their last seven quarters. Smith leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency.
Megargee's pick: Ohio State, 24-21
Other Expert picks:
Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Ohio State 23-21
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Ohio State 28-7
Bill King, RivalsRadio host: Ohio State 24-13
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