The Biggest Adjustment Each Top 25 Team Must Make Heading into October

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIOctober 1, 2012

The Biggest Adjustment Each Top 25 Team Must Make Heading into October

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    Week 5 featured one major theme: vulnerability. From Alabama to Baylor, every Top 25 team that played showed weakness. Even Oregon's victory over Washington State was anything but certain at halftime.

    The teams that benefited the most from Week 5 were those that took the week off. Alabama had the golden opportunity to prove that it belonged at the top and answered by allowing Ole Miss to lead the game for 15 seconds.

    Nobody looked unbeatable this week, and October is the most ruthless month of college football. What has to change for the Top 25 to remain the Top 25? While intensity and focus are equally deficient across the nation, here is the top adjustment needed at each Top 25 program.

    *Statistics and rankings from

25: UCLA Bruins

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    The biggest adjustment that needs to be made is the reason the Bruins lost to Oregon State at home.

    UCLA must get better with play-calling. This offense is truly balanced, averaging 317 yards through the air and 243 yards on the ground. Had the Bruins gotten more than 72 yards rushing versus the Beavers, those numbers would be even closer.

    When it came to the Oregon State game, UCLA was 2-for-15 on third down and never established the run. Calling the right plays is essential to masking the week-to-week fluctuations in technique.

    When you realize that your team can't run the ball, there are two solutions:

    1) Run it away from your original target. (If you're running to the gaps, run to the sideline, etc.)

    2) Run your five-wide packages and make the opponent pay for loading the box.

    The only incorrect solution is to stubbornly call the same plays because they should be working.

24: Northwestern Wildcats

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    Northwestern stands undefeated with good wins over Vanderbilt, Boston College and South Dakota. The Syracuse and Indiana wins left something to be desired defensively, but they were still wins.

    The bottom line for the Wildcats is that they need to lock it down in the secondary. They exploded on Indiana for over 700 yards of total offense with 36 first downs and held the Hoosiers to just 159 yards rushing.

    Without Indiana's 266 passing yards, this score looks entirely different. The same can be said for the season opener, when Syracuse tagged the 'Cats for 482 yards through the air.

    What we've learned so far in 2012 is that Northwestern is one tightened secondary away from contending for the Big Ten title, something they haven't had outright since 1995.

    If they plug the holes in the secondary and continue to stop the run, Northwestern can hang with anyone in the conference—especially after seeing what's going on in the Big Ten this year. Nobody looks unbeatable yet.

23: Washington Huskies

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    Washington is in the middle of a Pac-12 free-for-all. Even Oregon showed weakness against Washington State. If the Huskies watch the game tape closely and copy the Cougars' first-half performance, they will be in this game when the third quarter kicks off.

    So far, the only blemish on the Huskies' record is the gouging they received from LSU in Week 2. That being said, the Huskies absolutely must find a way to succeed on offense.

    The Huskies are currently ranked 104th and 111th in cumulative passing yardage and rushing yardage, respectively. The offensive line needs to open holes for the tailbacks, which will open up the short passing game. Once the screen passes are successful, the opposing secondary is reluctant to get too far away from the line.

    The deep game opens up, and you have suddenly gotten on the scoreboard with very little change to the overall scheme. Offensive line play is the key to victory, and Washington is a consistent offensive line away from Pac-12 contention.

22: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Rutgers is locked in a three-way tie for the Big East with Cincinnati and Louisville. The Scarlet Knights have remained undefeated through the first four games of the season and plan on keeping it that way through all of 2012.

    What can they do to keep it that way? The Knights can control the deep ball better. Against Arkansas, they successfully held Knile Davis to 1.7 yards per carry, so the run-stopping ability of the Knights is not in question.

    Arkansas had three touchdowns thrown to one receiver on his 10 receptions. Getting behind the deep receivers is a huge problem, especially if the Knights win the Big East and move on to a BCS bowl.

    The biggest threat in October is a Syracuse team that put up 29 points on then-No. 2 USC. If Rutgers can run some deep-route drills in conjunction with some serious game tape, the Knights look good to remain unbeaten through October.

21: Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Nebraska faces Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan in October. While those may look like wins at first glance, don't forget that UCLA looked tasty, too.

    Nebraska opened the season against Southern Miss and threw for 354 yards. Since then, Taylor Martinez has not broken the 200-yard mark in any game. The good news for 'Huskers fans is that he's only thrown one pick. The bad news is that he threw it in the loss to UCLA.

    Taylor Martinez needs to get some serious reps with his receivers, and the coaches should probably set up some blockades around the field to simulate defenders.

    Martinez has to be successful for this team to win consistently. He's been sacked eight times this year, which certainly calls for more protection, but the key blame falls on Martinez.

    He needs to do more with the opportunities that he's given. The passing game will decide Nebraska's fate. If Martinez can play well in October, the 'Huskers will head out to Michigan State with a 7-1 record.

    The defense absolutely needs to step up, but Martinez is the one whose performance has been directly reflected in the win-loss column.

20: Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Mississippi State has consistently fielded a true SEC-style defense, and it has always shown. What's different this year is that the Bulldogs are actually putting quite a few points on the board.

    While the defense was lackluster in Week 3 against Troy, the offense was what almost cost the Bulldogs a win.

    While the attack was balanced, the 'Dogs converted an abysmal four of their 14 third downs. In fact, the one stat that won the six-point decision for Mississippi State was the turnover battle. State won that 4-0, forcing two fumbles and picking off two passes from the Trojans.

    As Mississippi State takes on Tennessee and Alabama, the defense needs to continue to perform as it always does. The offense needs to find the end zone a lot more. Neither the Volunteers nor the Crimson Tide will be taken down by an offense that only put up 28 points on Auburn.

19: Louisville Cardinals

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    Louisville faces Pittsburgh, South Florida and Cincinnati in October. None of those games is a guarantee, but there are things that Louisville can do to tip the scales in its favor.

    The biggest thing that Louisville can do is start balancing the offense. While the yardage looks similar at 242.6 passing and 169.2 rushing yards per game, the fact is that Louisville runs the ball a lot.

    There is nothing wrong with running the ball, especially when you're succeeding. However, to stay undefeated against the likes of Cincinnati and South Florida, the Cardinals are going to have to find a way to keep the defense guessing.

    As it stands right now, a team that can shut down the run could beat Louisville. The gold standard for this Louisville squad is the 36-7 first half of the UNC game. If Louisville can repeat that performance for every half in October, it will be a fantastic month for the Cardinals.

18: Stanford Cardinal

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    Stanford fields a top-25 defense every week. Even in the loss to Washington, the Stanford defense only allowed 17 points. The Cardinal is also winning the turnover margin, 10-5, on the season so far.

    That leaves one final piece of the puzzle: offense. Is it the rushing attack? Is it the receivers? Is it the offensive line?

    The real answer is very disappointing, and it's "coaching." David Shaw has a solid quarterback who is completing 50-plus percent of his passes. Nunes needs to be developed, but he's not really getting any better or worse as the season progresses.

    As the quarterback is developing, you need to adjust your game plans. David Shaw has to know what his team is and isn't capable of, and he needs to call plays accordingly. Even though he's only four games into the season, it already looks like he made one big mistake over the past couple of years.

    It seems Shaw forgot to pay attention from the moment he turned the offense over to Andrew Luck. It's like he was on cruise control and is way out of practice now that it's his job again.

    We will see what happens in October, but the coaching has to be adjusted. What they have going on isn't working well. When it's winning, it's still too close to losing.

17: Oklahoma Sooners

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    Oklahoma heads over to newly ranked Texas Tech this week with one thing in mind: redemption. After a heartbreaking five-point loss to Kansas State at home, the Sooners have been issued a warning.

    While the Sooners will be hitting practice hard to ensure victory, they should be focusing on Landry Jones. Jones needs to find chemistry with his receivers, and he should be honing that chemistry as you're reading this because Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas and Notre Dame are all coming in October.

    Jones has tossed five touchdowns this season and two interceptions. While that may not look absolutely horrific on paper, we're talking about a fifth-year senior quarterback in the Big 12. He should be doing much better than that.

    Even if the touchdown-to-interception ratio were the same, he should have thrown 10 scoring passes already. Landry Jones is talented enough to mount a comeback for the Sooners.

    Week 5 looked atrocious all across the nation. A one-loss Sooners team is far from out of the national championship discussion, though a few teams will have to falter for it to happen.

16: TCU Horned Frogs

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    TCU is making a case for an inaugural run at the Big 12 title, and it has the nation's second-best scoring defense to thank for it.

    In fact, the only major aspect of the team that's not even in the top half of the nation is the rushing attack. TCU needs to build on its success and form a complete team.

    The Frogs can make it through about half of the conference with nothing but air travel but will need to beef up the running game in order to take down storied programs with deep defenses.

    The offensive line needs to open up the gaps for the workhorses of the team. TCU's leading rusher is averaging 4.0 yards per carry and will need to be averaging five or better to compete in the new conference.

    Iowa State, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are all on the docket for October. Baylor and Oklahoma State are very tough road games for the Frogs. They will need every advantage they can get to remain undefeated through October.

15: Clemson Tigers

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    Clemson's missing link is on the defensive side of the ball. Giving up 27 points to Ball State and 31 to Boston College is borderline inexcusable.

    While Boston College is a conference opponent, the Tigers should have held the Eagles to much fewer than 31 points.

    The only team the Tigers have shut down in the red zone was Furman, and even Boston College scored twice from inside the 20.

    Once again, a Top 25 team knows how to stop the run but can't defend a passing attack to save its life. The Eagles managed only 1.8 yards per rush in Week 5 but actually outgained the Tigers, 369 to 367, through the air.

    The onus falls on the defensive line. Clemson has only managed four sacks on the season while allowing seven. That's not a horrible mismatch, but it does help illustrate that the Tigers' pass rush leaves much to be desired.

    When you allow a 3-1 Boston College team to tag you for 350-plus yards in the air, that shows you that you are putting zero pressure on quarterbacks.

    The pass rush must improve, or the Techs will make has-beens out of the Tigers.

14: Oregon State Beavers

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    Oregon State has found a way to win against three straight ranked opponents and has landed at No. 14 as a reward for those efforts.

    The good news for the Beavers is that they're ranked. The bad news is that they've jumped to 14th already. After a close victory over then-No. 22 Arizona, people are curious if 14 is too small a number.

    How can the Beavers prove that they are worthy? Bring the tailbacks into the game and help them succeed.

    Oregon State is currently 96th in rushing yards per game, and that's got to change if they are going to survive October. The offensive line has shown flashes of brilliance but still needs to improve.

    That rushing attack has to be able to wear the opponent down throughout the game. Oregon State is on track for a good season. Bringing out a formidable rushing game could make it great.

    It's not unreasonable to hope the Beavers are 7-0 coming out of October if this adjustment is made.

13: USC Trojans

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    USC was the preseason favorite for just about everything. The Rose Bowl is still a viable option, and the national championship isn't completely shot yet, either.

    However, that's getting way ahead of things. In October, the Trojans face Utah, Washington, Colorado and Arizona. While all of those games are winnable for the Trojans, two things must happen:

    1) Morale must remain high. The Trojans must let the Stanford loss go and "Fight On!"

    2) Matt Barkley must improve via the offensive line.

    Matt Barkley has proved year after year that he is a great quarterback, but nobody throws well from the ground.

    In USC's lone loss, the Stanford Cardinal dropped Barkley in the backfield four times. That doesn't even include all the times he was hurried, pressured, scrambling for his life or whatever description you want to attach to what a quarterback does when the enemy storms the pocket.

    While Barkley has all the talent surrounding him to make a Rose-y season out of 2012, he has to get protection.

    Once the sacking issue is resolved, then the Trojans can work earnestly on keeping the pressure off Barkley. The Trojans must focus on coming out of October still hanging to only one loss.

12: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State joins the Northwestern Wildcats as the only two undefeated Big Ten teams after Week 5.

    Ohio State's biggest overall battle has been inconsistency, but that's true of almost every Top 25 team.

    The Buckeyes' biggest individual battle has been with tackling. Too many times over the past few weeks, opponents have gotten first downs off of what should have been tackles for loss.

    The Buckeyes have often failed to tackle in space after a pass is caught. The situation came to a head when the Buckeyes narrowly edged out the UAB Blazers because of a second-quarter scoring run that put Ohio State up by nine points.

    Without two of those three touchdowns in the second quarter, this game would have gone into overtime. Just ask Arkansas how it turns out when you take an "inferior" team to the fifth quarter.

    Ohio State must get back to basics before Oct. 6, when Nebraska comes to the Horseshoe trying to make a case for the Big Ten title.

    A win over the Buckeyes would certainly put them back in the driver's seat.

11: Texas Longhorns

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    Texas has shown itself to be a well-balanced team, and finding fault is difficult—not impossible, but difficult.

    Allowing 31 points to Ole Miss and 36 points to Oklahoma State does not bode well for an October that starts off against West Virginia.

    West Virginia is led by current Heisman favorite Geno Smith, who blew up Baylor for 70 points.

    To gain an advantage over WVU, Texas is going to have to ramp up the defense. The great news for Texas is that it won't have to ramp it up too much, as long as the Longhorns are constantly improving and never taking a step back.

    West Virginia has proved that all you really need to do to take down the Mountaineers is gain a 14-point lead. After all, the Mountaineers are more than happy to trade scores with you for 60 minutes.

    Texas has amassed nine sacks so far this season but will need to bring all the pass pressure it has to disrupt a very talented West Virginia squad.

    After that, it falls on the secondary—the same secondary that inexplicably gave up big plays to Ole Miss in Week 3.

    Texas has a tie for first place as far as needed adjustments go, and it's between the secondary and the defensive line.

    The line has to put pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary has to defend the passes that are going to be flying quickly out of the pocket.

    If the Longhorns give anyone in October time to develop plays, it's going to be a painful month. If they emerge still undefeated, then the Big 12 title and a potential national championship appearance will be the reward.

10: Florida Gators

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    Florida may not be the flashy Florida that we remember from the Tebow/Meyer era, but it's a solid Florida that only knows how to do one thing: win.

    Florida has been riding its defense and running backs to victory week after week, but it will need a little more for October. Florida faces No. 4 LSU, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 5 Georgia in October with one "break" against a Vanderbilt squad that has hung with some good teams this year and is rising from the bottom of the SEC East.

    The one thing missing from Florida's equation is an elite quarterback. Jeff Driskel is becoming an elite quarterback, but it's a lot to ask for him to be ready to take down three top-10 teams in four weeks.

    However, if he can take some serious two-a-days with nothing but his receivers and secondary on the field at least three times a week, he can be elite through October.

    Maybe he takes a couple of losses and waits to play in Atlanta next year, but maybe he comes through the fire forged for a championship right now.

    After all, he's already completing almost 70 percent of his passes. All he needs to do now is pass more with the same completion rate. That takes practice time, but it doesn't all have to be in-game.

9: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Notre Dame would do itself a favor by picking a quarterback. When receivers are asked to maintain winning chemistry with two quarterbacks, things tend to go wrong at least once in a season. However, that's not Notre Dame's biggest needed adjustment.

    What the Irish need to fix is the total offense. The Irish have the 86th-ranked passing and rushing attacks in the nation and the 77th-ranked scoring offense.

    While the defense comes in at ninth, the offense is trying its hardest to lose the opportunities that the defense is creating. Notre Dame was an abominable 3-for-9 on third down against the Wolverines, and Michigan turned the ball over six times.

    Notre Dame took the ball from Michigan six times, and Michigan still outgained the Irish in total yardage.

    Where's the problem? It's in the offensive line. It shows flashes of greatness at pass protection, such as holding Michigan to zero sacks. However, it allowed eight sacks in the other three games combined, including two to Navy.

    The line also needs to get better at punching holes in opposing defenses to give room to the tailbacks, while the rest of the offense needs to figure out how to work with the receivers to spring them for more yards.

    Notre Dame is quite able to go through 2012 with no more than two regular-season losses, but not if it brings what it brought against Michigan and Michigan State.

    If Notre Dame plays completely to its potential, an undefeated season is not out of reach.

8: West Virginia Mountaineers

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    West Virginia needs to get a defense. You can barely even narrow it down to one aspect of the defense. The Baylor Bears just gouged the Mountaineers for 63 points, and that was without Robert Griffin III.

    West Virginia is currently 96th out of 124 teams in scoring defense. Seriously, even a prevent defense would allow the Mountaineers a chance to intercept passes once the opposition got to the red zone.

    You can't even give credit to the line for stopping the run, because that's not why opposing offenses aren't running the ball. They're too busy logging 581 passing yards to bother with the rushing attack.

    The worst aspect of this defense is the secondary. Out of all the secondaries in the nation, this one has access to the nation's top passing attack.

    These defensive backs get to practice against Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. There is no reason that they can't log enough hours with this offense to stifle any other passing attack in the country.

    When West Virginia faces Texas on Oct. 6th, there had better be vast improvement in this coverage team. Otherwise, the Mountaineers are in for a repeat of last week, except for the fact that Texas has serious defense.

7: Kansas State Wildcats

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    Oddly enough, Kansas State's Collin Klein and company are currently ranked 106th in passing yards per game nationally.

    Klein is much better than what he has displayed thus far in 2012, and his play must pick up. The good news for Wildcats fans is that the October schedule is against Kansas, Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas Tech.

    Even if the offense takes another week to gel, Kansas should be a win. Iowa State will depend on which Iowa State shows up. West Virginia will be a test of the Kansas State defense and a practice round for the offense (unless the Mountaineers read this article and find defense).

    Texas Tech will be a test, but nobody is really sure how difficult of a test. Kansas State needs to find rhythm on offense and find it quickly.

    The Collin Klein that led this team to the Cotton Bowl last year needs to come out of hiding and sling the ball again. After all, he's already taken down Oklahoma, and that was one of the teams that pushed Kansas State out of BCS contention in 2011.

    If Klein returns to form and the defense holds up, the Wildcats can make it through October without a loss.

6: South Carolina Gamecocks

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    South Carolina needs to protect Connor Shaw, period.

    After Stephen Garcia was dismissed from the team, Connor Shaw stepped up and new life appeared on the Gamecocks offensive line.

    For the first time in months, they had a quarterback they wanted to protect. They proved it against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl back in 2011.

    Then, 2012 came. The line apparently forgot how much they liked Shaw, and they have let him take sack after sack. This led to multiple instances of his being benched in favor of the backup and even a fracture in the shoulder blade of his throwing arm.

    If South Carolina can keep Shaw healthy, they will take down Georgia on Oct. 6th and make a legitimate run for the SEC championship in Atlanta.

    If Shaw gets taken out of the game, you can go ahead and write off the Gamecocks. Without Shaw, Georgia, LSU, Florida and Tennessee are all losses in October.

    Keep Shaw healthy and there are up to four wins instead.

5: Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia decided to let Tennessee and Tyler Bray go all "Geno Smith" on it for 478 total yards of offense and 44 points.

    It's still puzzling how South Carolina didn't jump over Georgia in the Top 25 polls. Anyway, Georgia's defensive reputation took a giant hit due to that performance.

    Georgia's linebackers succeeded in putting almost no pressure on Tyler Bray and the Volunteer wideouts. The linebackers need to get back to practice and actually regain their championship form.

    If not, October is going to start with a loss to South Carolina and end with a loss to Florida. October is the key month for the Bulldogs, who can't afford to lose to South Carolina this year.

    The championship tiebreaker would be settled by head-to-head competition, and in that scenario, South Carolina would win—especially now that Arkansas is officially a cupcake.

4: LSU Tigers

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    LSU needs a quarterback. No, they don't need to find another one—Zach Mettenberger is fine.

    Therein lies the problem: Zach Mettenberger is fine. He's not great, and he's far from excellent at this point in the season.

    The "Mettsiah" is far from being the Tigers' savior right now and must gain experience quickly or lose the season. His pocket awareness is lower than expected, and he's jumping out of the pocket even when there is really no pressure on him.

    While it is okay for that to happen early in the season, he's an LSU quarterback. He practices against one of the top five teams in the nation.

    He needs to develop much more quickly if he's going to lead the Tigers to Atlanta in December.

    On the season, he's 78-for-119 for 1,016 yards. He looks great on paper, but he's not leading the Tigers to the end zone. He's thrown for six touchdowns and two interceptions.

    While that may pass for Towson, October brings Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M. That is a potential three losses if he doesn't shed the nervous fear right now.

3: Florida State Seminoles

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    Florida State's only known weakness was exposed by one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. Clemson ran up 37 points on the Seminoles and almost pulled off the upset in FSU's backyard.

    The Seminoles face NC State, Boston College, Miami (Fla.) and Duke in October before entering the difficult month of November.

    The Seminoles need to avoid the tempting relaxation that comes when you see teams like Duke on your schedule. As far as adjustments, treating teams like South Florida as real opponents is the adjustment.

    South Florida came about as close to victory as Clemson did, except the Bulls never took the lead.

2: Oregon Ducks

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    Oregon was in prime position to actually overtake Alabama in the polls this past Saturday against Washington State. As the last game of the night, the Ducks could have officially looked better than everyone else when the dust from the Week 5 crap storm settled.

    However, Oregon allowed Washington State to come within four points at halftime and looked as human as anyone else. In the locker room, the Ducks put on their big-boy uniforms, and in the second half, they hung 21 points on the Cougars to virtually ice the game with 15 minutes left.

    The Ducks defense needs to bring the pass rush back for good. The Ducks recorded back-to-back-to-back sacks at the end of the first half against Washington State to keep the Cougars from actually taking the lead at halftime.

    While that is a brilliant display of defense, it needs to be consistent. A letdown that allows a four-point margin at halftime will not work against the teams coming in November. In the meantime, October provides plenty of in-game experience to solidify the Ducks pass rush as among the best in the nation.

1: Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama earned itself a unanimous No. 1 ranking this past weekend, mostly due to LSU's struggles against Towson.

    Even after allowing 14 points to Ole Miss, Alabama still owns the best scoring defense in the nation. So, what can they do to improve as a team?

    Stop settling for field goals. The offensive line looked okay against Ole Miss and allowed only one sack. That's an improvement on the average of 2.5 sacks per game allowed that the Tide took into Week 5.

    However, this is supposed to be the best offensive line in the nation. Another point against the line is the fact that the tailbacks and short receivers were all constantly running into the backs of blockers against Ole Miss.

    If the line can step the play back up to championship level, the rest of the offense can focus on doing what it does. In the meantime, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi State look pretty scary for the Tide.

    There are more offensive adjustments that need to be made, but that is the biggest because it affects the entire offense.