I expect that there will be some changes in the way that Bo and his defensive staff scheme for Tyrod Taylor and Tech this year. Too many times Taylor was able to get first down conversions with his legs. This Nebraska team, or more to the point defense, is different this year. That is where I will begin with the 10 things that I will be watching tomorrow.
1. Make them throw - This is the biggest thing going into this game. Taylor is a good passer, but he is a great athlete. I would say that too many times last year that Taylor had open guys downfield and couldn't get them the ball. More often than that, Nebraska seemed to bring a blitz where Taylor found a way out and was able to pick up big yards against Nebraska. I don't think that Nebraska will bring as much pressure tomorrow and will try to contain Taylor to the pocket.
2. Nebraska tight ends should be busy - I know that Michael McNeal has had a great couple of games so far especially against Arkansas State. I was pretty excited about Dreu Young getting that first grab last weekend to get him going this year along side McNeal. Nebraska went with a lot of multiple tight end looks last week that gave Arkansas State all sorts of problems. McNeal, Young and Kyler Reed are all match up problems for the opposing team's linebackers or safeties which brings me to my next point…
3. Work the middle of the field - Zac Lee has been pretty impressive in his first two starts. I think that he has been the most impressive with his eyes to the middle of the field and exposing the other team's safeties. Tomorrow, Virginia Tech is supposedly going to sit all-ACC cornerback, Stephen Virgil, which could create mismatches outside with the wide receivers, but starting safeties Kam Chancellor and Dorian Porch will have difficulty with Nebraska's inside receivers. I have a feeling that Nebraska will try and take what they are given and if the middle of the field is there then Lee does a great job of taking it.
4. Zone blocking = Not impressive - I don't know about the rest of you, but I am not a fan of "zone blocking" yet. One of the biggest reasons I don't like it is while personnel and skill set for offensive lineman is so important I believe that the skill set or type of running back you have is equally important. Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead to me, and to many, run a lot alike. One thing you can say about both is that they are "downhill runners". Downhill runners hit the hole at 100 miles per hour and make the second level miss. I don't see the type of "no brainer" holes for Nebraska's running backs to get through so far this year.
5. Pass pro - Nebraska gave up their first sack of the season last weekend to Arkansas State. Yes, that is not a sexy team to give them up against, but we all know that there is some legitimate NFL talent on that team particularly at DE. However, Nebraska is now going against Virginia Tech at Blacksburg with a line that I would say lacks some consistency and against some running backs that have had a hard time picking up the blitz. Nebraska will have to give Lee some time to go through the progressions tomorrow.
6. Get rid of it - #5 dovetails into #6 for me because while the protection has been good leading up to Virginia Tech there have been some plays in the first to games that Lee has held the ball a couple of ticks too long. Lee needs to have some sense of urgency or discomfort standing back there in the pocket to not take unnecessary sacks tomorrow. More than that, he is going to have to make his decisions quickly and still be correct in his decisions, where and who he throws the ball too as well.
7. Greg Boone – OUT! I don't know how Virginia Tech goes about trying to replace a 280+-pound tight end like Boone who seemed to be open all night a year ago when Nebraska and Virginia Tech played, but I imagine it will involve establishing the run against Nebraska. A couple of players to watch in this battle are Ndamukong Suh and Sergio Render who are both pre-season All-American candidates and interior line players. The interior defensive line for Nebraska is quick and could give Virginia Tech fits. Keeping outside contain for that reason on top of Tyrod Taylor running the football is a huge key to Saturday.
8. Boot to the head - Nebraska is going to have to be smart on special teams and is going to need Adi Kunalic to keep booting his kickoffs into the end zone. Dyrell Roberts is not a guy that Nebraska wants to see getting a chance at a return. Against Alabama, Roberts returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Beyond just keeping Virginia Tech's return game in check, Beamer Ball is all about special teams and Nebraska is going to get many different looks against them to make plays on special teams. Nebraska did have a punt get tipped last week against Arkansas State.
9. Passing wrinkles - I don't know anything specific, but something tells me that there has been some thoughts and some play installed to get Rex Burkhead the ball in the passing game. There is really a side to Burkhead that a lot of people haven't seen that after seen it in high school here in Dallas last year is a big strength of Burkhead's. I keep thinking that we are going to see it and so far we haven't. This might be the week that Nebraska chooses to use it.
10. Simply put, it's just time - Nebraska has been so close under Bo to winning against a top 25 opponent on the road that it's just time for it to happen. Call it what you want, maybe a little magic to happen or Nebraska finally puts one together from beginning to finish, Nebraska needs a top 25 win. This is a statement game. A game that the state, the fans and the program can get behind and just say "We're Back!". I can sense a little magic already about the weekend given the words of Carl Pelini who said that the intensity of the workouts this week has been the best he's seen.
Nebraska is an underdog this weekend going into Blacksburg where Virginia Tech hasn't lost to an out of conference opponent at home in 31 games. I don't think that there will be 32. Nebraska has some offensive firepower that I wasn't expecting this season throwing the football and at the same time I think that there are some looming question marks for Virginia Tech in terms of match-ups that gives Nebraska an edge. I am going to take the Huskers, on the road, in Zac Lee's first start away from the cozy confines of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, in a close one. Nebraska edges out Tech, 24-17.