July 9, 2009

Summer forecast: Virginia Tech

After a couple of warm-up games, Nebraska will finally get its first real test of the season against Virginia Tech on Sept. 19 in Blacksburg, Va. The Hokies could potentially be a top-10 team at this point should they pull off an upset over Alabama in their season opener, and a win for the Huskers could set the tone for the entire season.


In the third installment of HuskersIllustrated.com's new "Summer Forecasts" series, we take a look at Nebraska's chances at knocking off Virginia Tech on the road.


NU's biggest strength: Ball control


In a game that should definitely be a defensive struggle for four quarters, points will likely come at a premium. That's why Nebraska's ability to eat up big chunks of clock on each possession will play heavily into its favor against the Hokies.


The Huskers ranked second nationally in time of possession last season (34:01), and many times that grind-it-out strategy helped pave the way to crucial victories down the stretch. Facing a quarterback with as much big-play potential as Tech's Tyrod Taylor, keeping the Hokies' offense off the field and the ball out of his hands as long as possible will be critical.


Adding to this advantage is the fact that Virginia Tech is replacing two starting linebackers from last season. Though first-year starters Barquell Rivers and Jake Johnson will have had two full games under their belts by the time the Huskers come to town, they won't have faced a more aggressive rushing attack than NU's.


NU's biggest weakness: Big plays on special teams


Even if heralded junior Alex Henrey handles both kicking and punting duties this season, Nebraska will still have a first-year starter at punter and long snapper going against the best special teams unit in the country.


As has been shown countless times in the past, the Hokies can change a game around completely with one or two big plays on special teams. Whether it's a blocked punt, blocked field goal or a kick/punt return for a touchdown, Virginia Tech has made a living off exceptional special teams play for years.


The Hokies ended up with a total of five blocked kicks last season, with two blocked field goals, two blocked punts and a blocked extra point. Should they be able to pull one off against a relatively inexperienced NU kicking game (particularly the punt team), it could be the difference between a win and a loss for the Huskers.


Early HI.com projected point spread: +8


Early HI.com final score prediction: NU 14, VT 16

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