2009 Keys to the Game and Matchups to Watch: Nebraska

In this week’s only game between two ranked teams, #13 Virginia Tech will host the #19 Nebraska Cornhuskers Saturday afternoon. The Hokies won at Lincoln last year 35-30, and the Huskers will be looking for revenge in Blacksburg. Nebraska finished last season strong by winning their last four games, and six of the final seven, and started this season strong with decisive wins over two Sun Belt opponents. Bo Pelini’s program is headed in the right direction, and Nebraska will be looking to make a statement against Virginia Tech.

Offensively and defensively, the two teams are fairly similar in schemes. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was held over from the disastrous Bill Callahan regime, but his concepts of multiple sets and personnel packages remain, often using a single back with either three wide receivers or two tight ends. Nebraska still emphasizes physical, hard-nosed football, but the days of the man-on-man blocking schemes have been replaced by more contemporary zone blocking techniques. The Cornhuskers now throw the ball a great deal, averaging 281 yards per game last year and 294.5 so far this year; this is definitely not the ground-oriented Nebraska of old.

Defensively, Bo Pelini, who calls the signals, emphasizes an aggressive, attacking defense. Similar to Tech, the strength of this unit is the defensive front led by All-American candidate Ndamukong Suh (#93, 6-4, 300, 4.98, r-Sr.). The Huskers use a four-man front emphasizing gap control backed by an active linebacker group. Against Tech, Nebraska will likely use a 4-3 look to address the run, but in many games against the pass-happy Big 12, the Cornhuskers will go to a 4-2-5 nickel package. Pelini likes to use man-to-man coverage, but limitations in personnel have forced him to use more zone coverage than he previously used as a defensive coordinator for the Huskers.

Coming off of Virginia Tech’s best offensive performance in years against Marshall, how will the Hokies attack an improving Nebraska defense and what should we expect from Bo Pelini?