Zac Lee looks like a de facto starter now that Kody Spano is out with a knee injury. Behind Lee the Huskers are left with true freshman Cody Green and converted linebacker Latravis Washington. While Spano had yet to take a snap, he has been around long enough to learn Shawn Watson’s offense. With Spano out, things look a little scary, as if there’s potential to not have much offense at all.
Virginia Tech was in a similar situation last season. Their 2008 team entered spring having graduated their top four receivers. Their prize running back, Brandon Ore, was dismissed from the team, and then they lost some more running backs to injury during spring practice.
Frank Beamer’s original plan was to start experienced quarterback senior Sean Glennon and redshirt sophomore Tyrod Taylor. Unfortunately, Glennon struggled during the first game of the season and off came Taylor’s redshirt. The two traded time at guiding a conservative attack that eventually finished the season ranked 103rd in total offense.
Despite the offensive problems, the Hokies went on to win five of their last six games, destroying Boston College to win the ACC title and winning the Orange Bowl against Cincinnati. (You might feel an urge to laugh at those wins, but I’d ask you to stifle it because it’s been a while since the Huskers have sniffed a BCS bowl let alone get to one.)
By no means do I mean to imply that Zac Lee is Sean Glennon. No one knows enough about Lee to know how he’s going to perform once the next season begins. Perhaps Lee will perform like Superman (although first-year quarterbacks rarely do) or perhaps he’ll struggle.
Or heaven forbid, he goes down with an injury.
At that point, the green jerseys being worn by the quarterbacks this weekend will take on a whole new metaphor. Green and Washington might be so new to Watson’s offense that he’ll begin to emulate Hokies’ offensive coordinator Brian Stinespring - as conservative as Nebraska’s politics.
Even if that happens, there’s a lot of hope for Husker fans. Nebraska enters 2009 with a defense full of depth and potential. That’s where resembling the Hokies takes on a wonderfully different meaning. You can’t mention Virginia Tech without mentioning Frank Beamer, and you can’t mention Beamer without including the word “ball”, as in “Beamer Ball”.
Beamer Ball doesn’t have an exact definition, but implies winning football games by scoring non-offensive touchdowns. A blocked kick here, an interception return there. Add in a punt or kickoff return and the Hokies are all over you in ways you didn’t see coming.
One additional trait of Beamer Ball - a team that doesn’t stop fighting. In last year’s North Carolina game, the Tar Heels lead 17-3 with 6:44 left in the third quarter. Add in a couple interceptions, a fumble, and a timely personal foul penalty and the Hokies came back to win that one 20-17, after allowing North Carolina only three first downs the rest of the game. I won’t mention what happened last year in Lincoln, because you already know.
If any of this stuff sounds familiar, it’s because a lot of it is the team that deep down you want the Huskers to be, it’s just that the defense has yet to fully materialize. Husker fans saw glimpses of its full form last year as Ndamukong Suh had two interceptions for touchdowns, one in which he ran over Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins on his way to the end zone. (If I live to be 100, I will never tire of saying that.)
Virginia Tech and Nebraska tied in the one category that seems best to define Beamer Ball - blocked kicks and punts. Both finished sixth with five blocks apiece. The Hokies finished 14th in rushing defense compared to the Huskers at 22nd. The resemblance falls off in pass defense, as Nebraska finished 89th to Virginia Tech’s 16th-place ranking, but we should improve this coming season.
There is one more glaring area in which the Huskers must improve if the resemblance proves to be true. Nebraska’s 2008 defense produced only 17 turnovers as the Husker finished 108th in turnover margin while Virginia Tech produced 34 turnovers to finish tenth. That’s not as bad as it sounds. Bo Pelini’s defenses are known for their ball-hawking capabilities, so that turnover margin is bound to improve.
Before you start to worry about what you’re going to see this weekend, think about the possibilities. If Nebraska’s defense can improve this season, we can get away with having a less than stellar offense. Perhaps we’ll start referring to a new way of winning. Just don’t call it “Pelini Ball”.