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  1. 2009 Sep 19

    VT WEEK: Go Ahead, Rip Our Hearts Out


    By HuskerLocker

    Bo Pelini took off his headset, turned away from the field, and pitched it over the heads of his own players. It was 59 minutes and 39 seconds of tough, gritty football – down the drain.

    Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor had just thrown an 11-yard touchdown pass to Dyrell Roberts to give the Hokies the improbable lead on a most improbable drive. After gaining just 37 yards in the entire second half, Tech went 88 yards in five plays, fueled by an 81-yard pass from Taylor to receiver Danny Coale that is destined to haunt the dreams of Husker fans everywhere.

    Another home win for the Hokies against a non-conference opponent. Another Husker loss to a ranked foe on the road. And this 16-15 setback might sting more than any other.

    “We had plenty of opportunities to put the game away and we didn’t do it,” a despondent Pelini said.

    He had no interest in talking about the 81-yard pass, as cornerback Anthony West simply allowed Coale to run free while safety Matt O’Hanlon’s eyes were stuck on Taylor, who hit a streaking Coale near midfield. O’Hanlon caught Coale at the 3-yard line with 1:11 remaining.

    “You watched the game,” Pelini said.

    O’Hanlon then sacked Taylor on a blitz back to the 11-yard line. After an incomplete pass on second down, Taylor rolled to his left on third down, sensed pressure, and drifted back toward his own sideline. In the end zone he spotted Roberts, who had shaken free of NU cornerback Prince Amukamara. Just before defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh slammed down on his shoulder, Taylor fired his best pass of the day. Roberts cradled it. Lane Stadium erupted.

    “That situation is tough - I personally had a great shot,” said Suh, who otherwise played magnificently, batting down four passes – which tied a school record - and notching a sack. “But I didn’t get there in time. I fell off the back of him. I can only hope the next time I’m in that situation, I make the play.”

    That Suh even had to make that play was a failure of Nebraska’s offense to capitalize on numerous scoring chances.

    The Huskers consistently ran the ball against Tech’s stingy front. Junior Roy Helu had the best game of his career, rushing 28 times for a career-high 169 yards, many of them after contact. Overall, NU gained 207 ground yards and quarterback Zac Lee was never sacked.

    But NU was never able to score a touchdown. Junior Alex Henery was forced to kick five field goals. A combination of untimely play calling, poor execution and penalties sunk NU’s scoring efforts.

    The most glaring failure was in the third quarter, while NU held a 12-10 lead and had driven to Tech’s 6-yard line. Lee seemingly threw a touchdown pass to Mike McNeill, but Ricky Henry was flagged for holding. Then the Huskers accumulated three more penalties in the series, including another holding flag, to push itself out of field goal range. Menelik Holt also dropped a surefire touchdown in the corner of Tech’s end zone.

    By the time the series had ended, NU had lost 30 yards.

    “Obviously that was a key point,” Pelini said. “We thought if we had scored there, we’re in pretty good shape.”

    Tags: bo pelini, vt week, tyrod taylor, roy helu

  2. 2009 Sep 18

    VT WEEK: Five Keys


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    We seriously debated building this five keys article as a shrine to that TBS Superstation legend Patrick Swayze, who died this week after a long battle with cancer. He was a staple of what we like to call Generation HDTV, that class of twenty and thirtysomething guys with ridiculously big flat screens and hours to burn watching mindless pop culture from their collective youth.

    Swayze thrilled us on many a Sunday afternoon in the 12 minutes before the kickoff of early NFL games. When it came to the choice of watching retired football players guffaw through their lead pipe locks, or Dalton take out the trash at the Double Deuce, well, it wasn’t really a choice. None of that processed cheese; give us the sharp Vermont cheddar. Until the kickoff of the early NFL games.

    We even had the “key” names picked out according to his movies: Red Dawn, Next of Kin, Ghost, The Outsiders…

    But then we realized: It’s Virginia Tech week. And that’s no time for kitsch. Hokie cornerback Stephan Virgil, who forced a key fumble in Tech’s 35-30 win at NU last year, was right:

    “We’re going to give Nebraska our best game,” Virgil said. “They’ve played two Sun Belt teams. They’re not Virginia Tech. We’re going to get their best shot, and we’re going to give them our best shot.”

    The original Virgil couldn’t have said it any better. Well, yeah, he probably could have, but we don’t know Latin.

    On with the keys.

    Violent Dance: That’s an apt name for what offensive tackles and defensive ends engage in 30-40 times a game. Last year, Tech’s fast, physical, undersized line won more battles than it lost, consistently harassing Joe Ganz into sacks or errant throws. The Hokies should have even more of an advantage in its home stadium.

    Enter Marcel Jones, who held his own vs. Arkansas State defensive end Alex Carrington last week, and will likely be called upon to block VT’s excellent end, Jason Worilds, at least part of the time on Saturday.

    “They’re pretty quick off the ball, but they also play with a lot of power moves,” Jones said. “A lot of bull moves. I’m going to have to drop the anchor and sit on them a little bit. Keep my feet ready for counter moves.”

    Worilds owned left tackle Mike Smith in 2008 with 1.5 sacks and several more hurries. If Smith isn’t up for the challenge Saturday, look for Jones to swing over there. How NU protects quarterback Zac Lee may determine his success.

    The Specials: They’re certainly not an afterthought in this game; Tech’s already returned two kicks for touchdowns in 2009. The Hokies used a blocked punt for a safety and a punt return by Macho Harris in 2008 to quickly put Nebraska in a 9-0 hole.

    “What they do, they do well,” said NU coach John Papuchis, who spearheads Nebraska’s special teams units. “It’s not a gimmicky scheme or anything like that. But they’re very fundamentally sound. They do a very good job of getting on and off blocks…we have some keys and things we’re looking for. Basically, it’s a lot of want-to and a lot of technique and execution.”

    The Huskers’ kick and punt coverage units are better in 2009 than they were in 2008, thanks to an influx of young athletic talent, and some needed energy from a healthy Rickey Thenarse and true freshman Eric Martin.

    We remain unsold on Niles Paul as a punt returner, but in the kick return game he’s a threat, with his straight-ahead speed, to bust one open.

    Hustle and Flow: Linebacker is one hard position to play in college football. You’ve got to be aggressive, but patient. Physical, yet nimble enough to tackle some guy almost two-thirds your size. Single-minded, yet versatile. You’ve got to run like hell, but not too much, lest you get caught in the backwash of a cutback play.

    If you want to know why the spread offense works so well these days, just consider the stress it puts on 19-year-old linebackers, and how few of them can hold up to it. You can’t just have three good ‘backers. You’d better have six who can do different things, depending on the circumstances.

    This week, Phillip Dillard takes the stage to help Nebraska shore up its run defense against the Hokies. Tech loves to run sweeps, counters and occasionally options, and do it with a maximum of pulling guards and tackles. Dillard’s playing style and body type fits this game. He’s good at sitting in the hole, taking on a block with one shoulder and blasting through with his free shoulder. Bo and Carl Pelini wisely moved him away from the middle position, where he’s required to make the calls, to a spot where Dillard can expend that emotion and physicality.

    Sean Fisher and Will Compton, meanwhile, are going to get a smashmouth introduction to big-time college football. Tech’s going attack them specifically, you can count on it.

    Lane and Lee: Zac Lee’s been to a few road games at Nebraska. Oklahoma. Kansas State. He just hasn’t had to walk out there on the first offensive snap of the game, and feel the weight of the joint pressing down on him.

    The biggest road game Lee’s started in was at San Francisco City College, when he quarterbacked that team to the California Junior College state title game. He played in Chukchansi Park, a Fresno baseball stadium that holds 12,500 fans.

    So, yeah, this is a step up.

    A good running game will help, but here’s the reality: The Hokies are going to force Lee to beat them. Don’t get fooled by Alabama’s plush ground stats in a 34-24 win; it was Tide quarterback Greg McElroy who hit several key passes – two of them right over the head of giant free safety Kam Chancellor – that opened up those running lanes in the second half.

    Big-Game Coaching: We’ll talk more about this in a column tomorrow, but we want to see how Nebraska’s braintrust responds to adversity on Saturday. Namely, when Tech makes a couple big plays on offense or defense, and Lane Stadium launches into madness. How will Bo Pelini, Carl Pelini and Shawn Watson digest and respond?

    We’ll be blunt: Watson called 10 excellent games in 2008. One, Oklahoma, was out of his hands before he had a chance. Another, Missouri, was a failure of defensive execution. But against Virginia Tech, he bailed on the running game by the end of the first drive, never tried to use the Hokies’ pursuit against them with a trick play, and generally showed Bud Foster too much respect. He pulled a Callahan. And he hasn’t done it since.

    The Brothers Pelini, meanwhile, got impatient with their linebacker play and dialed up blitzes to pressure Tyrod Taylor. Taylor calmly sidestepped those poorly-executed blitzes and either ran or passed for big gains. The Huskers practically handed Tech half of its yards by leaving giant swaths of the field wide open. That’s execution, sure. But it’s also coaching, to know that your players can’t do what’s being asked of them.

    In other words: When Virginia Tech puts Bo’s boys in the corner, how do they get out?

    Tags: vt week, five keys, zac lee, marcel jones, bo pelini, shawn watson, tyrod taylor

  3. 2009 Sep 17

    VT WEEK: The Best Scouting Report on the Web


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Here’s our weekly in-depth opponent scouting report. Opponent: Virginia Tech (1-1) Coach: Frank Beamer, 23rd year at Tech, 178-90-2 overall Last Game: Beat Marshall 52-10, racking up 605...

    Tags: vt week, scouting report, tyrod taylor, ryan williams, david wilson

  4. 2009 Sep 17

    VT WEEK: Tyrod from Tidewater


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Tidewater. Hampton Roads. The warm, wet eastern coast of Virginia, the oldest, busiest water corridor in the United States, frankly, a breeding and bleeding ground for every significant war fought on and off American soil. History’s so thick you can squeeze it like a stress ball. Theme parks with guys in powdered wigs.

    And the military just snatched up half of Chesapeake Bay for its own use during the two World Wars. Never gave it back, either. Just took more. And displaced families, almost all of them black, settled in the communities around the bases, in the shadow of the largest naval station in the world.

    The city of Hampton – Allen Iverson’s hometown, Tyrod Taylor’s too – is smack dab in the middle of it. Poor. A median income below $20,000. Hampton High School, 81 percent black, the oldest high school in America still in use. The football stadium’s bleachers have a section for octogenarians. And they show up, too.

    Because, damn, Hampton can play football. Seventeen state titles for the Crabbers. And not just good football at Hampton, but up and down the coast. Stud teams everywhere. Led by stud quarterbacks.

    Taylor grew up amidst all that. He won one of those state titles in 2005. He Bryan Randall, Ronald Curry and the Vick Brothers. All from Tidewater. They still debate who was best, and Taylor makes his own case. He starred at Hampton High and his choice for college came down to Virginia Tech and Florida. Yeah, Urban Meyer wanted him. Taylor could have had that. But most kids from Hampton Roads want to be like Mike.

    QB at Tech is a specific, honorable, difficult thing. Especially if you’re from Vick’s old stomping grounds. You’ve got to be good. You’d better be fast.

    Vick set the tone with his scrambles, amazing throws and million-watt smile. Whatever his faults, he’s given back to the school that made him - the program that, in so many ways, he made. Right before his life went to complete hell by his own brutal hand, Vick was in the midst of raising money for those who lost family members in the Virginia Tech massacre. He’d given thousands back to the school already.

    A Tech quarterback is a target for opponents, an ambassador for the program. Simply having the job, post-Vick, provides and requires an extra authority.

    “When Tyrod comes in the huddle, we all shut up,” right tackle Blake DeChristopher said. “He just has that presence. We all stop and listen. We all respect him.”

    Said Tech coach Frank Beamer: “Exceptional player. Really good leader. Good person, good player, good leader. He’s a guy who’s constantly trying to get better.”

    And yet, as it must be with a Tech quarterback, there is a flip side. The man of the people. By numerical order, Taylor’s locker is next to David Wilson, a highly-touted true freshman running back who rushed for 165 yards last week against Marshall. Wilson said he’s bonded with Taylor more than anyone. They joke constantly.

    After his debut, Wilson walked up to Taylor and asked him: Am I dreaming?

    Yeah, Taylor joked. You’re about to wake up in your hotel room.

    “He’s different than what I’d thought he’d be,” Wilson said. “I thought he’d be some kind of soldier or something. But we laugh together and everything. He’s real funny.”

    Taylor shared the job for two years with Sean Glennon, and not very harmoniously. Glennon, invariably, would falter, and have to be bailed out by the 6-foot, 215-pound Taylor, who’d sometimes try to do too much. He threw too many interceptions, made too many bad reads, and basically sunk Tech’s chances in the 2008 Orange Bowl vs. Kansas before the Hokies had a chance.

    But, of course, there’s the flip side of the equation. The games he won with those legs and that occasionally brilliant arm. The 300 total yards to help give Beamer his first win over Florida State in 2007 The sudden comeback vs. North Carolina. The 2009 Orange Bowl, when he made a touchdown run vs. Cincinnati to rival Vick’s greatest hits. And, of course, Nebraska, one of the best games in Taylor’s career, when he accumulated 258 total yards in a 35-30 win and burned one Bo Pelini blitz after another.

    He’s 14-3 as a starter. Only Michael and Marcus Vick have better winning percentages in the last 13 years. And Taylor’s better now than he was in 2008, he said in a teleconference with reporters. He’ll take what the defense gives him.

    “If we call a pass play, I have the arm strength to find my receivers,” Taylor said. “If it breaks down, I can always run.”

    Last year was messy anyway. Taylor was going to redshirt and let Glennon play the season, until Glennon flamed out in the opening-season loss to East Carolina. VT head coach Frank Beamer, smarter than the average bear, immediately burned Taylor’s redshirt. Then Beamer, not so smart, insisted on splitting time between the two, even though Taylor was the far better player.

    The result was a lack of rhythm at the position, and Taylor was often wild with his passes. He tossed only two touchdowns. He threw seven interceptions. He was hurt off and on, too.

    Said NU head coach Bo Pelini said: “The biggest key for him now is that it’s his offense. I’m sure that helps him with a little bit of a comfort level, to be out there all the time.”

    Tags: vt week, tyrod taylor

  5. 2009 Sep 14

    A Conversation with Frank Beamer, Part 1


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    In part one of our chat with Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, the Hokies' coach talks about the strengths of Nebraska, NU quarterback Zac Lee, his own quarterback Tyrod Taylor and, yes, the swine flu. Check it out with a 30-day free trial to Husker Locker Pass!

    Tags: vt week, frank beamer, locker pass, podcasts, tyrod taylor, zac lee

  6. 2009 May 05

    OPPONENT REPORT: A Clash of Titans in Blacksburg


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Virginia Tech has an impressive new weapon for the 2009 season that you'll want to know about. Who is he? Get a Locker Pass and find out!

    Tags: spring opponent reports, locker pass, virginia tech, tyrod taylor, frank beamer

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