When the game was set some time ago I am sure that both sides imagined something entirely other than two teams outside the top 25 looking to get into the poll. Granted, Virginia Tech was ranked pre-season, but has since fallen out.
Regardless of neither team being rated, this game promises to be a scrappy game and probably a defensive game. With not a lot of national publicity, one of the biggest games of the weekend will be in Lincoln on Saturday night.
Going for Nebraska: Nebraska is coming off of their best rushing game this season with a 44 rushing attempts for 330 yards against New Mexico State. Nebraska offensive backfield players consisting of Marlon Lucky, Joe Ganz, Quentin Castille, Roy Helu and Marcus Mendoza all averaged at least seven yards per rushing attempt. All of those players had at least three rushing attempts and will likely see the majority of the carries for Nebraska. The reason for Nebraska's success last week was Lydon Murtha. Murtha led the Huskers in knock downs and gets Nebraska back to the projected starting line after missing the first two games du to injury.
Going for Virginia Tech: Other than the Furman game, Virginia Tech has been in a knock-down, drag out game each time this season. The ECU game was the only won that they lost. They have literally had three games come down to the last minute or two. Nebraska hasn't. Coach Frank Beamer and his team have found ways to win, to stay in the game when it might have been easier to crumble. Virginia Tech needed 10 points in the 4th quarter to come back and win, 20-17. Tech has had to play hard all the way up to the end of the 4th quarter and Nebraska has struggled offensively in the second half this season except for the 4th quarter against San Jose State when they scored 21 points.
Going against Nebraska: The Huskers have shown an ability to either start out fast and fade as the game goes along or come out of the gates slow and then get going. In the first half of night games or second half of the day game this season, Nebraska has scored 63% of their total points in those halves of those games. Nebraska hasn't put together a complete game yet this season. If there is a silver lining to this point, Nebraska has played better in night games in the first half and the Huskers are going to need to come out and get on top of the Hokies early to put them on the defensive as opposed to getting into a close battle the whole game. Nebraska needs a quick start on Saturday night.
Going against Virginia Tech: Nebraska starts out the season with five home games. The Huskers have had a comfortable environment to go out and win games. Tech has split home and away through their first four games with the most convincing of their performances taking place at home against Furman and needed a field goal late in a tied ball game with Georgia Tech to win. Tech comes to Lincoln, 1-1 on the road, and into a place where Nebraska has performed their best in night games in the first half. Not only that, but Nebraska is finally hitting their stride when it comes to running the football.
Offensive player of interest for Nebraska: Mike McNeil, and the other tight ends for Nebraska, are going to need to find holes in the defense for Joe Ganz to exploit to allow things to open up for the outside and deep for the wide receivers and opening up the run game. It's pretty clear that Virginia Tech will come into Lincoln with the idea of taking away something from Nebraska. More than likely, that will be the run. Nebraska will need to run the football to win the game though and, ironically, the most important part to that will be the tight end and keeping the Virginia Tech defense accounting for them in the pass game and potentially off of the play-action pass.
Offensive player of interest for Virginia Tech: Hokie fans might have held their breath a little with Tyrod Taylor left the game against North Carolina, but it seems that he is healthy and will get the start against Nebraska. Despite what some might think Taylor can really throw the football to go along with a big-time ability to run. Taylor has a 60% completion percentage and the chemistry between him and the young wide receivers that Tech has will only improves as the season goes along. While Tech didn't run the read option at all against North Carolina, I might bet that after watching the success that San Jose State did have with the limited use of the read option it might be good to just keep Nebraska on their toes.
Defensive player of interest for Nebraska: I am going to go with Ty Steinkuhler. Sure, Ndamukong Suh has the name, the tackles for loss, the sacks and the interception that he returned for a touchdown, but Steinkuhler technically has more tackles and more quarterback hurries for Nebraska's defense. While he hasn't brought down the stats that the defensive tackle along side him has, what he has done is set up the other players around him to have success. Steinkuhler, quietly, has been playing at a very high level and creating situations for the other players on the defense. He will have to play big on Saturday night.
Defensive player of interest for Virginia Tech: The obvious person that people talk about on Tech's defense is Victor Harris. I have talked to, met and seen Harris play in person and he is a talent. However, I think that the real place to watch on Tech's defense is on the defensive line, particularly at the end position starting with #90, Orion Martin. Martin is a special player the gets extreme pressure from his defensive end position in both the pass and the run defense. Martin leads the Hokie defense in both tackles for loss and in sacks.
Deciding factors: Virginia Tech has shown an ability to stay in games after falling behind early and also brings with them the best defense that Nebraska will see up to this point this season. The Huskers have struggled, before the New Mexico State game, to consistently run the football and establish the run. Nebraska will need to be able to points on the board, sustain drives and take time off of the clock to win. Nebraska can't give Tech a chance to win or tie late in the fourth quarter with time on the clock.
Above Tech's ability to stay in the games late is Nebraska's ability to come out and get things going early. Nebraska just has too much going right now offensively and with their special teams that is either putting up points on the board themselves or at least setting up Nebraska's offense with good field position to score. This game will be about Virginia Tech not being able to keep up scoring with Nebraska. Tech has a solid defense, but Nebraska just has too much offensively.
Huskers win, 31-14.