This opponent preview post was originally done in July. Rather than do a whole new post - we thought it would be interesting if we'd leave the old post in place, and update it with how things have changed after a couple of games.
Over the offseason, I'm sure more than a few Husker fans wondered just what would have happened if Nebraska would have played Virginia Tech later in the season. Certainly, the Huskers finished the season strong; clearly Nebraska was a much stronger team at the end of the season than earlier.
Only problem with that thought is that Virginia Tech also finished the season strong. The Hokies ended 2008 by beating Boston College 30-12 to win the ACC Championship, then beat Cincinnati 20-7 to win the Orange Bowl.
Offensively, Tyrod Taylor was a one-dimensional quarterback last year, hurting teams more with his legs than with his arms. That might be tough for Husker fans to accept, since Taylor hit 9 of 15 passes for 171 yards against the Huskers. That 171 was his season high, however, and Taylor only threw for two touchdowns all season. Part of the problem was inexperience at wide receiver. But 2009 might be a different situation, as the Hokies may be getting back wide receivers Brandon Dillard (achilles) and Zach Luckett (suspension) to bolster the receiver corps. Dillard impressed in the 2008 spring game with his speed before his injury. That may help with the perception that Taylor regressed as a passer last season. Part of that perception was a noticeable "hitch" in his passing motion, something he resolved during the offseason.
One year ago, Tech was scrambling to find a running back after suspensions and injuries depleted their depth. Enter Darren Evans, who rushed for 1265 yards and 11 touchdowns in his freshman season to solidify the Hokies. Depth improves with expectations for redshirt freshman Ryan Williams, who impressed in the Hokies spring game. And former starter Kenny Lewis returns as well for even more depth. A weakness going into last season is now a strength.
Husker fans will be glad that all-American Victor "Macho" Harris graduated. But as with any Virginia Tech defense, they return plenty of other great players. Athlon thinks Tech's defensive line is one of the best in college football, led by junior defensive end Jason Worilds who helped Tech lead the ACC in sack rate. Virginia Tech will have to replace two starters at linebacker, but sophomore Barquell Rivers got the start in the Orange Bowl due to injuries, and stuffed Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike on 4th and goal from the one yard line to snuff the Bearcats last comeback attempt. Despite the loss of Harris, the secondary should be just as strong as ever led by Stephan Virgil, who tied Harris for the team lead in interceptions.
Virginia Tech is a preseason top ten pick by many prognosticators, ranked as high as fifth by ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach. Whether that's too high or not, Virginia Tech is going to be a tough matchup for the Huskers on the road. Nebraska can't afford to make the mistakes they made last September if the Huskers are to have any chance.
Here are the results of the original poll, which has been reset, rather than re-opened. It'll provide a snapshot of where people were then, versus after a couple of games by both teams. Rather than post it
Virginia Tech enters this weekend's game at 1-1. The Hokies lost to Alabama 34-24 to start the season, then destroyed Marshall 52-10 last week. Here's the surprise - the Hokies defensive line - Jason Worilds, Nekos Brown, Cordarrow Thompson, and John Graves - was supposed to be the strength of the defense, yet Virginia Tech gave up 498 yards of offense to Alabama and after two games the Hokies are 101st in the nation against the run. We'll have more on this later in the week.
The Virginia Tech offense is currently ranked 62nd overall, 115th in passing, and 13th on the ground.
If Tyrod Taylor's passing improved, it's a well-kept secret. After two games, he's completed 50% of his passes, 18 for 36 for 252 yards, one interception and two touchdowns. He's rushed 17 times for 32 yards for a massive 1.88 yard average. Below are his stats from his games so far this season from both games:
|vs Alabama / 9.5.09||Passing||Rushing|
|vs Marshall / 9.12.09||Passing||Rushing|
Not exactly world-beating.
Virginia Tech is going to do what they always do - establish a strong running game and beat the Huskers on the ground. Darren Evans injured his knee and is out for the season, leaving Ryan Williams and David Wilson as the ball carriers. Here are their stats so far this season - it should be noted that all of Wilson's yardage came against Marshall. : :
|2009 - Ryan Williams||2||29||235||117.5||8.1||5||3||78||39||26||0|
|2009 - David Wilson||2||12||165||82.5||13.8||1||0||0||0||0||0|
Virginia Tech is excelling in punt returns, currently ranked 14th nationally, averaging nearly 20 yards per return with one touchdown. In kick returns, they're at 20th, averaging over 28 yards per return, also with one touchdown.
There's nothing deceptive about what's going to happen Saturday. The Hokies are going to do what they've been doing for years under Frank Beamer - play tough-minded football and force their opponent into making mistakes.
The Huskers have done a better job of taking care of the ball so far this season, currently ranked 15th (tied) in turnover margin with +1.50, while Virginia Tech is even and ranked (also tied) at 59th. However, this is deceptive as the Hokies have played a top-ranked opponent on the road (Atlanta), while Nebraska has played two inferior opponents at home.
What to Expect:
Nothing fancy, nothing mysterious. This game is all about turnovers. If Zac Lee and his offense can keep their cool in a tough environment, the Huskers can win the game. If not, well, that's not a mystery either.