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Nebraska-Virginia Tech Preview

Records: No. 19 Nebraska 2-0; No. 13 Virginia Tech 1-1

Coaches: Bo Pelini (12-4, second season); Frank Beamer (178-90-2, 23rd season)

When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
Virginia Tech has a tough test this week against Nebraska’s imposing front four, so the battle at the line of scrimmage should be important. But if the Hokies’ offensive line and running backs perform they way they did in a 52-10 beatdown of Marshall, it might not matter. After struggling in a 34-24 loss to Alabama, the Hokies’ offense awoke and had 444 rushing yards. Promising running backs Ryan Williams and David Wilson each ran for more than 160 yards. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor said that this week’s game plan was to open up the passing offense because the Hokies anticipate Nebraska crowding the box. But Virginia Tech has not proven it can move the football through the air, meaning the battle up front should still be key with the Hokies’ offensive strength on the ground.

When Nebraska Has the Ball
Elements of Nebraska’s offense hearken back to its traditional strength: rushing the ball. Roy Helu Jr., who has rushed for 212 yards and three touchdowns, is tough. Nebraska’s offensive line is burly and talented. But the Cornhuskers’ passing offense has flourished so far this season. Quarterback Zac Lee, a question coming into the season, has shown polish as a passer. He has thrown for six touchdowns and completed 73.7 percent of his passes to an array of targets. The Hokies’ secondary will be tested, particularly with the uncertain health of cornerback Stephan Virgil. He missed the Marshall game with a left knee injury and returned to practice this week. Virginia Tech’s secondary showed some weakness against big plays against Alabama and allowed a 60-yard pass to Marshall. If the Hokies clamp down in the defensive backfield, it will help to ground a Cornhuskers attack that has taken flight in wins over two Sun Belt Conference teams.

Special Teams
Were there really any doubts? The Hokies’ special teams are once again solid. It started against Alabama, when Dyrell Roberts returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. It continued against Marshall, when Jayron Hosley returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown. Each has showed a special knack as a return man, adding a scoring dimension that is the mission of Beamer Ball. Virginia Tech has also received solid punting from Brent Bowden, who ranks 10th nationally with an average of 45.82 yards per punt.

Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer declared that “Nebraska is back.” That might be premature. Coach Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers on good footing after a 9-4 record in his first year. But while Pelini had a successful debut, Nebraska has not won a marquee game under his watch; it was close last year in a 37-31 overtime loss to No. 7 Texas Tech. With the Cornhuskers coming to a raucous Lane Stadium – Virginia Tech is 12-6 there when both teams are ranked – it will not be an easy environment for Pelini to earn the signature win of his young coaching career.

By Mark Viera  |  September 18, 2009; 12:49 PM ET
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