(Saturday, 7 pm, ABC)
The decision by Frank Beamer to take the redshirt off Tyrod Taylor and name him the starting quarterback has given Virginia Tech a chance to compete in games like this. With Sean Glennon at quarterback defenses could load up the box and shut down the running game because they knew Glennon wouldn’t beat them with his arm. Additionally, his immobility made him an easy target in the backfield. Those factors made scoring points an extremely difficult proposition for a Glennon-led offense.
Taylor on the other hand is a dynamic running threat that you must account for. That’s really all the Tech offense needed – somebody to make defensive coordinators think twice. The Hokies play good enough defense that they just need to squeeze about 20 points out of the offense to be in position to win in the fourth quarter. In fact, they have scored exactly 20 points in each of their last two wins over Georgia Tech and North Carolina.
Nebraska will be a different story though. Virginia Tech will probably need to score closer to 30 to win this game in Lincoln. So how will they do it?
Darren Evans has been a revelation at running back this year. The redshirt freshman has stepped into the role a year sooner than expected and proven to be every bit as productive as previous Hokie backs. Evans has a great size/speed combination that has led to 264 yards and 4 touchdowns already this season. He’ll need to churn out some tough yards against a Nebraska defense that will likely load up the box to stop him.
You better believe slowing down Evans will be a priority for the Nebraska defense. The Nebraska defensive line should have a slight advantage over a struggling Virginia Tech offensive line. Zach Potter in particular could play a big role in slowing down Evans.
Linebacker Cody Glenn figures to have yet another busy night tracking both Evans and Tyrod Taylor. The speedy Glenn, a converted running back, has been Nebraska’s most productive player on defense this season, and Saturday night should be no exception. Bo Pelini and company will probably turn him loose so he’ll have to play smart and read Taylor’s ball fakes well.
Speaking of Tyrod Taylor, the dynamic quarterback is going to have to play well in both the running game and the passing game. He’ll be able to burn the Nebraska defense at times with his legs, but he’ll need to be smart about when he does it. Running for 8 yards on 3rd and 9 won’t cut it.
Taylor must also complete a couple big passes to keep the offense moving. The Nebraska secondary has been suspect at times this year, so if you can lull them to sleep with the running game there will be open receivers on play action passes. Taylor has to be able to hit them. If you see him miss open receivers that will put even more pressure on the Hokie defense.
The key to the Virginia Tech offense will be whether or not Tyrod Taylor completes play action passes on first down, and his ability to convert on third downs with his legs. That may sound backward, but I think that’s the secret recipe for the Hokies to sustain drives and score enough points to win.
When Nebraska has the ball
Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has been very good in the early going. He has shown a knack for mixing up formations, using all his skill players, and being able to run any play at any time.
Joe Ganz is his trigger man at quarterback. Ganz is a spunky leader equally capable of making a big play with his arm as he is with his legs. He’s also capable of making the big turnover. Forcing the big turnover has been a specialty of the Virginia Tech defense for the past decade, so Ganz will have to go the extra mile to take care of the ball here. Ending a drive with a punt isn’t as bad as throwing an interception.
The Hokie secondary has a few playmakers, so I don’t expect Ganz to make it through Saturday night without throwing at least one interception. Cornerback Victor “Macho” Harris is obviously the biggest playmaker for Bud Foster’s unit, but the play of Stephan Virgil so far this season has made it difficult to avoid Harris. This duo holds a definite advantage in the matchup with Nebraska receivers Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. Swift is a heady player so he’ll find a way to make a few catches, but somebody like Menelik Holt or Niles Paul will need to make a big play or two.
The tight ends and fullbacks will probably play a big role in the passing game. Watson has shown a willingness to take advantage of these oft-forgotten positions, and it will come in handy against the Hokies. Look for Mike McNeill to sneak by the inexperienced Virginia Tech linebackers and come up with a couple clutch catches on third downs.
The Nebraska running game has been inconsistent so far this season, and going up against the Virginia Tech front won’t be easy. Marlon Lucky and Roy Helu are both very good running backs, but for some reason the offensive line isn’t quite there yet in the run blocking department.
That’s where Orion Martin, John Graves, and the Hokie defensive line come into play. Martin is a beast off the edge and he leads a deep line that will rotate up to eight or nine guys into the game. There’s a lot riding on the Hokie D-Line in this game because they will be responsible for shutting down the running game AND for disrupting Joe Ganz and getting him out of his rhythm.
The key for the Nebraska offense will be limiting turnovers to two or less and topping the century mark on the ground. If the Huskers run for over 100 yards and don’t turn the ball over, they should be able to win the time of possession battle and score more points than the Hokies are capable of matching.
This game has the potential to be a very exciting game full of big plays both offensively and defensively. There could even be a score on special teams.
The difference is going to be Bo Pelini and the Sea of Red. With the game being in Lincoln, it is going to be very difficult for Tyrod Taylor to change the play at the line of scrimmage, which will probably lead to a lot of improvisation. At this stage in his career, Taylor is a run-first quarterback, something Pelini and his staff will take advantage of. I believe they will allow Taylor to run, but contains him by swarming to the ball so that you’ll see him come up short of the first down more often than not when he runs. That will put the Nebraska offense back out on the field which will wear down the Hokie defense over the course of the game.
J.Pike’s Pick: Nebraska 32, Virginia Tech 24