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Hokies Hope to Open Up Passing Game

Virginia Tech has showed it can run the football. Now it could be looking to air it out.

As the No. 13 Hokies (1-1) prepare to host No. 19 Nebraska (2-0), their offense that has not found a rhythm is the passing game. But because they have had success running the ball, it may open up the field by taking some some shots on Saturday.

“I believe it’s going to help us a lot,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said of using the run to set up the pass. “They’re going to have to put more people in the box. We’re going to throw the ball. That’s the game plan going into it.”

The Cornhuskers have experience in their defensive backfield. The four starters – Larry Asante, Anthony West, Matt O’Hanlon, Prince Amukamara – have made a combined 53 career starts. Asante, the strong safety, leads with 24 starts.

But Nebraska’s secondary showed weaknesses in the Cornhuskers’ 49-3 win over Florida Atlantic to open to season. Florida Atlantic completed 20 of 41 passes and finished with 236 yards through the air (Nebraska did have two interceptions). Afterward, Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini called his defense “soft.” The Cornhuskers’ defensive backs tightened in a 38-9 win over Arkansas State, which threw for 131 yards, completing 11 of 20 passes.

Taylor had success passing against Nebraska last year in the Hokies’ 35-30 win in Lincoln. He exposed holes in the secondary by throwing for 171 yards, completing 9 of 15 passes.

So far this season, Virginia Tech has not always looked comfortable passing the ball. Running has been its strength.

Virginia Tech rushed for 444 yards Saturday in a 52-10 win over Marshall. It was the Hokies’ highest rushing total in 14 years. Running backs Ryan Williams and David Wilson became the first pair of Hokies to eclipse 160 yard rushing in the same game.

With the running game moving well, the Hokies hope to get their passing game going. Virginia Tech’s passing game was absent (91 yards) in a 34-24 loss to Alabama on Sept. 5. And it took some time to get moving against Marshall, but showed promising signs by the end.

Taylor started poorly on Saturday, completing 0 of 4 passes with an interception in the Hokies’ first two possessions. After that, he completed 9 of 12 passes and threw for two touchdowns, matching his total touchdown passes from all of last season.

Against Marshall, some of the Hokies' young wide receivers also started to come along. Dyrell Roberts and Xavier Boyce each had the first touchdown receptions of their careers.

Roberts never quit fighting to get open in his 21-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Boyce showed his ability as a blocker, particularly as he stuck to a defensive back as he cleared space for Taylor’s 46-yard scramble in the first quarter.

After the game, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring talked about opening up the passing game and challenging teams with it. That would be a departure in philosophy for the Hokies, who have especially struggled to throw the ball in recent years. Virginia Tech ranked 111th nationally in passing offense in 2008, 85th in 2007, 82nd in 2006 and 91st in 2005.

“We need to wage some one-on-one battles,” Stinespring said of passing the ball. “We need to take shots down the field. We’re going to do that.”

He added, “Having big plays is as critical a part of the game as anything.”

By Mark Viera  |  September 17, 2009; 2:45 PM ET
 
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