3:30 PM ET, September 19, 2009
Lane Stadium , BLACKSBURG, VA
After dropping the season opener to Alabama and rebounding with solid play against Marshall, Virginia Tech squares off against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The 'Huskers come off of two wins against Flordia Atlantic and Arkansas State. They won both games in lopsided fashion, and the Hokies present them with their toughest opponents of the season to date. Much of the Nebraska fan base share the sentiments that last season's loss to the Hokies came as a fluke as only their third non-conference home loss since 1991. On my way to the Georgia Dome two weeks ago, I stepped out of the car at the gas station, and on the other side of the pump stood a 'Huskers fan who saw my bright orange VT shirt and playfully said, "We're gonna' get you back this year." Ranked #19 in the AP poll and #18 in the Coaches' poll, Nebraska's squad and their fans definitely have payback on their minds for Saturday. As favorites to win the Big 12 North, they will want to go into their conference schedule with a strong out-of-conference victory.
Quarterback Zac Lee leads the 'Husker offense. The footage shows Lee's ability to throw accurately over long distances behind an offensive line that gives the kind of protection that many would envy. He has the starting job for the first time in his college career, and he has gotten off to a good start. In his first two games, he has thrown for an impressive 553 yards and completed 42 of 57 attempts, and just as impressively, he has amassed that pass yardage throwing to 11 different receivers. One may write off these accomplishments given the opponents of Nebraska's first two games, but make no mistake, a quarterback who can execute this successfully can spell trouble for even a Top Ten defense.
Roy Helu, Jr. (RB) weighs in at 215 lbs. and stands 6'0" tall. He has run for 212 yards on the season thus far. Also within the Cornhuskers' offensive arsenal, receivers Curenski Gilleylen and Mike McNeill have caught for 243 yards of passing combined. Lee will unlikely have as many opportunities to go to all eleven of his receivers, so these two will probably catch for most of the passing yardage. However, Lee and the rest of the Nebraska offense should not expect so much success against the Hokies' defense. The Hokies finished the 2008 season safely as a top ten defense, and they have seven of their eleven starters back. However, Lee has the kinds of tools for playing against a defense like the Hokies. He can pass accurately while floating away from the pocket. How well he executes stands out to me as the biggest variable in whether the 'Huskers develop offensive rhythm or not against the Hokies. The Cornhusker offensive line presents a force to be reckoned with as well. Kyle Tucker notes on his blog that they average 6'5" and 300 lbs. The Hokie defense will likely rely on speed over strength and size to get to Lee.
On the Defensive side of the ball, Nebraska doesn't have quite the same punch as their offense. They only rank 50th in yards per game (321 ypg) after playing against two far weaker teams from the Sun Belt Conference. MadJay praised the Virginia Tech offensive line in the game against Marshall from last Saturday. This Saturday's contest serves as the perfect opportunity for the Hokie offensive line to bring their play up a notch by giving a strong performance against Nebraska. If they can do so, Tyrod Taylor may well have a very successful day throwing the ball. Ryan Williams (RB) has opened up this season with 235 yards of rushing, dusting teammate Josh Oglesby (RB). David Wilson (RB) has shown some success as well with 165 yards. If those three can ride the wave of a successful day against Marshall and carry that into Nebraska, that may ease some Hokie fans' concerns about the Darren Evans injury. The 'Huskers defensive efforts will focus on containing Hokie quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They remember Taylor's 87 yards and a rushing touchdown during last season's contest. Their coaching staff views Taylor in the same light as Michael Vick during his career as a Hokie. This may open opportunities up for the Hokies' running game if the Nebraska defense gets overly focused on Taylor.
On the injury front, the most recent reports indicate that the Hokies currently plan to play without the services of Greg Boone (TE, chest injury) and Stephan Virgil (CB, knee tweak). The coaching staff has said, however, that Boone and Virgil have practiced and may well have themselves game ready by Saturday. If Virgil can't go, Rock Carmichael will play boundary and Eddie Whitley will likely start at field corner.
As we look towards the rest of the season, as much as I would have liked to have watched the Hokies triumph over the SEC powerhouse of Alabama, I don't take the loss with too much hardship. The Hokies played a Top 5 team to a 10 point margin, and they did so while making some rookie level errors. Virginia Tech has most of the season lying ahead of them, and an SEC loss for the greater good may only serve to instill some humility in the squad that will give them the focus they need to plot their course back to an ACC title. But I think this upcoming game against Nebraska, given the time in the schedule and the opponent, makes for the most probable launching pad for another ACC campaign in terms of winning momentum.
LET'S GO HOKIES!