Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nebraska Trip A True Test

LINCOLN, NE (I wish) -- So no, this is not being sent from La Quinta Inn in Lincoln. I won't be touring the Osbourne Athletic Complex. I won't be a citizen of Nebraska's third largest city, Memorial Stadium. I had tickets, but alas, I just couldn't make the trip. Also, I think death is going around. First Kyle Tucker, now me.

So, on to talk about Nebraska. The Cornhuskers program is a truly historied one. Through the nineties, under the direction of Tom Osbourne (namesake of the athletic complex mentioned above), the Cornhuskers to three national titles in 1994, 1995, and 1997. After 24 years, Osbourne retired after the 1997 season. They went on to play in one more national title game (lost to Miami) in 2001 and since then the Huskers have struggled. In the years since '01, the Huskers had failed to make a bowl game twice and have continued of their plight to regain supremacy.

This year, Osbourne is back. He is now the athletic director and a new spark may be lit under the Nebraska fire. They've opened up the season 3-0. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was LSU’s defensive coordinator last year. "Pelini is 3-0 this season, but those wins haven’t exactly come against national contenders (sorry, fans of Western Michigan, San Jose State and New Mexico State)." -Darryl Slater

A few notes before I begin to break this down by the individual units and match ups.

Nebraska is coming off a bye week. This gave them the extra time to prepare for the Hokies.

According to Frank Beamer, Tyrod Taylor's ankle is "OK. He’s alright. And I’ll say this: We don’t talk about our quarterbacks, and I’ve asked our quarterbacks not to do interviews here this week, once again.”

On the injury front, Xavier Boyce (Fr WR) is doubtful for the game with pain in his knee. Bruce Taylor (Fr DE) is still out with a left shoulder injury.

The game is a late one at 8:00 PM EDT and will be broadcast regionally on ABC and nationally on

Virginia Tech Offense vs. Nebraska Defense

To say that the Hokies have struggled on offense would be an understatement. The Hokies have passed (combining the two quarterbacks) for less than 400 yards in four games. That makes them the 114th best (or 6th worst) passing offense in the country. To put things in perspective, Nebraska QB Joe Ganz (r-Sr QB) passed for more yards in his first game and a half. To make things sting a little more, Temple has a better passing game than the Hokies... by a large margin.

Overall offensively, the Hokies aren't much better. The Hokies have been struggling to move the ball on the ground as well, though not as poorly. The Hokies overall are the seventh worst offense in Division 1A.

Taylor still has no confidence in his receivers, though it seems he's beginning to take a liking to Danny Coales (Fr WR).

The Nebraska defense, also known as the Blackshirts, has been one of the program's most precious attributed. Swarming lineman, sticky secondaries, were Nebraska's bread and butter. However, last year the Blackshirts were terrible in all categories. Last year they gave up more than 30 points on average, including a 76 point schalloping by Kansas. (Yes that Kansas.) With Pelini in from LSU, they've been better but still not quite up to par just yet. Through three games the Huskers have managed a total defense ranked 63rd. Remember that these were against teams of the likes of San Jose State.

Breaking down the line, it appears that the tackles our going to be Tech's biggest worries. These guys, Ndamukong Suh (r-Jr NT) and Ty Steinkuhler (r-Sr DT) [Best name ever] start the Husker 4-3 set. Behind them, at both positions they are stacked. At nose tackle, Suh is backed up by Shukree Barfield (Sr NT) and Terrence Moore (r-Fr NT) who are both studs as well. Jared Crick (r-Fr DT) backs up Steinkuhler. All five see playing time and all five have been in quarterbacks faces. Amongst them they have four sacks to date.

The ends are big. Heck the entire line is big ranging from 265 (Pierre Allen (r-So DE)) to 300 (Suh). Zach Potter was a menace last year with 11 tackles for loss.

Against the run, the Huskers have done well, but have yet to face a solid running team. Tech will be their best opponent in this regard so far this year (and that's not saying much.)

In the secondary, expect a lot man-to-man. Why is this important you ask. Well we've got a scrambler. Taylor is good at scrambling away from the rush, which Nebraska will bring a lot of. In a zone defense, you'll see a spy (maybe two) that will mark the quarterback and chase him down if he runs. In man, you don't usually have that luxury. Your linebackers are covering receivers down field. If Taylor doesn't see an open man, the linebackers won't be watching for him to take off. Before you know it he'll be in the secondary.

Key: If the Hokies can muster any rushing yards, perhaps they can open up some routes that Taylor and his receivers feel comfortable with.

Nebraska Offense vs. Virginia Tech Defense

The Huskers will come at the Hokies evenly from the ground and the air. Ganz has close to 800 yard through the air, but he's also a threat on the ground. Marion Lucky (Sr TB) had a 1000-yards rushing last year and has a good start with 179 yards this year.

Through the air, Ganz has two big senior targets. Todd Peterson (Sr WR) and Nate Swift (r-Sr WR) are tall and will give the Hokie's secondary some work.

The line will be tough to penetrate as these corn-fed 285 to 320 lb boys will make life difficult for the defense. Mike Smith (r-So LT) may be the weakest point at only 285 lbs. This is his first year starting so it'll be interesting to see if the Hokies line up Orion Martin (r-Sr DE) on him to see if he can sneak by for some tackles for losses or sacks.

Key: Tackle. Tackle. Tackle. If Nebraska has been paying attention, the short dump route has been Tech's biggest weakness so far. Dumping a slant or a curl at four to five yards has been very effective against Tech's defense -- especially after missed easy tackles. The Hokies will need to stay at home and play assignment football.

Key Matchups

Orion Martin vs. Mike Smith - As stated above, Smith is the least experienced and smallest of the offensive line. Martin (or Nekos Brown (Jr DE)) need to take advantage of this.

Stephan Virgil/Macho Harris vs Todd Peterson/Nate Swift - The corners will have to stay at home with these guys. Depth at wideout isn't there for Nebraska, so it's imperative to shut these two down.

Tyrod Taylor vs. the Blackshirts - If there ever was an opportunity for Taylor to step up this is it. Taylor will have, in theory, an easier time reading the man coverage, and potentially sneaking past them, with no spy to cover him.

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