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October 13, 2006

Expert's view: Top teams hitting the road

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Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:

The two biggest games on this week's schedule are road games for two of the nation's undefeated teams.

And you don't have to go far to find large circles of cognoscenti who believe both could fall from the ranks on Saturday.

Michigan, sans Mario Manningham, travels to Penn State. Florida, fresh off swamping LSU 23-10, goes to Auburn.

Both matchups hold plenty of intrigue. The Nittany Lions have revenge on their minds for the only blemish on their record last season, a game in which they lost on the final play on a pass to Manningham.

For the Tigers, they have to regroup immediately after a stunning upset at the hands of Arkansas. Auburn must prepare for a Gators team that is stout defensively and is beginning to click offensively with its two-QB package.

In this week's "Ask the Experts" we go in depth with these two games.

SEC Game of the Week
No. 2 Florida at No. 11 Auburn
Saturday, 7:45 p.m., Eastern; ESPN
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AuburnSports.com's Bryan Matthews and GatorBait.net's Guerry Smith on Rivals Radio
Jeffery Lee of AuburnSports.com talks about the Tigers:
"The pressure is on this team. It's tough to come out of the West with two losses. But I've seen them taking a businesslike approach this week, much like the LSU week. I expect to see some new wrinkles on offense. I think Brad Lester will be more involved. They'll try to establish the running game and clear the box out a little bit. They're expecting Florida to load up and try and make Brandon) Cox beat them.

"Auburn's defense has struggled stopping the run except for the LSU game, and as it turns out LSU is not such a great running team after all. There will be some personnel changes this week. Karibi Dede is moving inside to the mike position. He's got more knowledge of the defense, and he'll make the calls. Something else to watch for is the debut of Tray Blackmon (the redshirt freshman was Rivals.com's top-rated outside linebacker in the class of 2005). He's not going to start at weakside linebacker but should get the majority of the reps. He's a big-time playmaker. He may give Auburn that playmaker that they haven't had on defense all year. It's hard to say that about a kid who has never played a down of college football, but he can do things that other guys can't. He might deliver a big hit that changes momentum.

"Auburn matches up better with Florida than they did with Arkansas. UF is a finesse team, and Auburn doesn't have to worry about the run as much. I expect them to come out on offense and show more and be more imaginative and creative. They've been very vanilla up until this point. I expect to see more formations and pre-snap shifts. I'm not sure why they haven't done it this year, but they haven't.

"On defense you won't see the 3-4, which they've tried, but more 4-3 and nickel packages."

Marty Cohen of GatorBait.net talks about Florida:
"I'm not sure Florida learned all that much from Arkansas' success because they're so different offensively. South Carolina had exposed them a little bit as far as not stopping the run. I just don't think Auburn is a great football team. Folks up there were not shocked because they had seen this coming. They exposed some weaknesses that I'm not sure Florida can take advantage of.

"Now, the part that Auburn had trouble with that Florida can take advantage of is that they couldn't move the football or protect the passer. I would think Florida will load up on (Kenny) Irons and dare (Brandon Cox to throw. That has been everybody's MO against Auburn, not just Florida. But the Gators' first priority always is to stop the run, and they've been good at it. Irons is who they'll center around. Cox doesn't have an array of weapons, and already Auburn has given up 18 sacks. Florida will crowd the box and make sure Irons doesn't have a hot start.

"Florida hopes to have DeShawn Wynn healthy and back in the lineup. He's supposedly 100 percent, but it's hard to tell around here. They hardly ever rule anybody out unless they have two casts on their legs. But Wynn was running around on the field in the pregame last week, so he should be ready. Plus, Florida has next week off - so if he does get banged up again he'd have that time to recover. The Gators need him. The run game has not been productive."

Big Ten Game of the Week
No 4 Michigan at Penn State
Saturday, 8:00 p.m., Eastern; ABC
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Spotlight: Hunt carrying the load | Big Ten Breakdown | Video Vault
Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com talks about Michigan:
"The obvious question is what they do with Mario Manningham out. He has been unstoppable so far this season. It's possible you might see more of (true freshman) Greg Mathews. The coaches really like him. He's a possession receiver, but they love what they've seen from him. He's caught everything thrown his way in practice and they think he has a great future.

"(Wide receiver) Adrian Arrington is not a deep threat, either. They've been running so much that when they take shots deep people have been open and Chad Henne has been right on the mark, especially on the deep ball.

"Who knows if they can run clock and control the ball against Penn State? They've run on 90 percent of first downs in the past two games, which is too much. But I do expect that Mike Hart will log his share of carries and that it probably will be a low-scoring game.

"For the Michigan defense it starts with stopping the run and making Penn State pass. They've given up some yards in the air and have let some guys get behind them. But they're stopping the run better than anybody in the country. If they make (Anthony) Morelli beat them, I think it will be a long day for Penn State. But Penn State will have a lot going for it the crowd, the motivation of having lost seven in a row to Michigan, and they have some skill guys who can test Michigan."

Phil Grosz of BlueWhiteIllustrated.com discusses Penn State:
"I didn't realize it until we looked at it this week that Manningham is something like 47 percent of their entire passing offense. It surprised me, but you look and (Steve) Breaston is under 10 yards per catch, and the tight ends have had very few balls. I'm sure they have people to replace Manningham, but when you lose a player like that who already has nine touchdown catches this season to lead the nation, that's got to be an advantage for Penn State.

"Penn State is allowing only about 78 yards per game on the ground. They're pretty good against the run, and this (Manningham's injury) gives them the opportunity maybe to leave their corners out there one-on-one. Then they can free up a safety to cheat a little and come up against the run."

"I would think Michigan will try to take away Tony Hunt and make Anthony Morelli beat them. Morelli's biggest problem and he has all the talent in the world is when the play isn't there, he has so much confidence in his arm he tries to make a play anyway. He's susceptible to turnovers. That said, he had a nice game against Minnesota with two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He threw a couple of passes away on third downs when they weren't there.

"I think a key for Penn State is to be balanced offensively. It's essential for them to throw on first down. Establish run then throw. If they are going to upset the Wolverines, go away form that and throw on first down. Michigan might have a tendency to load up on run.

"The place will be a zoo. Kirk Herbstreit told me last year when he was here for the Ohio State game that he had never seen a comparable situation. Ohio State players said after the game that they felt the ground shaking. Without question, the crowd will have an opportunity to have an impact. Penn State needs early success to keep them in it and keep the energy level high."

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