BLACKSBURG, Va. - The "exhibition games" games are over for the Nebraska football team. After getting their feet wet against two teams from the Sun Belt Conference, we are finally going to find out what the Huskers are made of today in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech.
Can quarterback Zac Lee handle the pressure from a big time defense? How good is Nebraska's offensive line? How far has this defense come in the last year under head coach Bo Pelini? These are all things we'll know the answer to today when the Huskers and the Hokies square off at Lane Stadium.
Here are Saturday's keys to victory for Nebraska as they prepare for their big match-up with Virginia Tech.
Establishing the run
This one sounds obvious, but it's going to be key for Nebraska to establish a respectable ground game today in Blacksburg. Last year the Hokies kept NU's running game in check and forced quarterback Joe Ganz into several predictable passing downs.
The difference was last year the Huskers lined up against Tech in several 'big sets" to try to run the football straight at them. I expect offensive coordinator Shawn Watson to spread things out more, because I don't think you can just run at the Hokies the old fashioned way and expect to have success for four quarters in Blacksburg.
I also wouldn't be surprised if you saw Nebraska come out today in some wildcat formation looks to try to run the ball. It's pretty clear Watson has kept his play calling close to the vest through the first two game and NU hasn't even begun to tap into their full offense.
Stay composed Zac
As Norfolk Daily New writer Darryl Slater said this week in our "ask the expert" breakdown, Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster salivates over the opportunity to go after new quarterbacks.
I expect to see Foster bring some major pressure at Lee to try to force him into quick decisions that could lead to turnovers.
The key will be for Lee to keep his composure. He's going to get hit today more than he's been hit all year. Nebraska is going to probably punt the ball more than they've done all year as well. Lee just needs to keep his cool and not let the pressure of their defense get to him.
Make Tyrod Taylor be a passer
If you let Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor be an athlete, that's where he can really hurt you. The Huskers need to force Taylor into some throwing situations today where he can't rely on his feet to get him out of trouble.
All week the Huskers have also talked about how important it will be to keep him in the pocket and not let him scramble around to create big play. Last year Taylor really hurt Nebraska in this area.
Be the aggressor
When Nebraska played Virginia Tech last season, I think Watson and the offensive staff almost showed Foster and his defense too much respect early on in the game.
It wasn't until NU got down when Watson starting calling a more aggressive game plan and things started to open up. I don't think Nebraska can go into this game with the idea they are going to win by just dinking and dunking the ball around the field. They have to take some shots and go for the big play.
Don't let 'Beamer Ball' take over
You hear so much about "Beamer Ball" after a while it almost starts to drive you nuts. But it is what it is. Virginia Tech has become one of the top programs in college football based on solid defense and special teams play.
The Hokies make a living off of special teams and defensive touchdowns. They've already ran back two kicks this season, and last year against Nebraska their defense and special teams play set the early tone of the game.
I don't think you can completely shutdown "Beamer Ball," but Nebraska cannot let it take over this game. In the end, I think it's asking an awful lot for NU to come into Lane Stadium with a first-year starting quarterback and pull off the upset.
I think this game will go four quarters, but the home field and some other key intangibles for the Hokies will leave the Huskers coming up short.
Callahan's Prediction:Virginia Tech 30 Nebraska 24
Season Record: 2-0 overall; 1-1 vs. points