After opening with two impressive home wins over lesser opponents, Nebraska is going on the road for its first real test.
The 19th-ranked Cornhuskers look to avenge a tough loss from last season on Saturday, trying to end No. 13 Virginia Tech’s home winning streak over non-conference opponents at 31.
With first-year starter Zac Lee leading the offense, Nebraska (2-0) has gotten off to a fast start.
Lee completed 27 of 35 passes for 340 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the Cornhuskers’ 38-9 win over Arkansas State last Saturday after throwing for 213 yards and two TDs in a season-opening 49-3 victory over Florida Atlantic.
The junior quarterback connected with 11 different receivers last week and led the Huskers to scores on five of their first six possessions.
“He’s playing at a high level,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “Other than the quarterback being new, we do have experience and some guys who have played some games. Our offense has been playing well, and I expect that to continue. I like what I’ve seen from that group.”
While Pelini’s offense has racked up 984 yards in the first two games, it likely won’t be as easy moving the ball against the Hokies (1-1).
The Huskers had trouble getting in rhythm against the stingy Virginia Tech defense in last season’s 35-30 loss at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska, which was limited to 55 rushing yards on 25 attempts, rallied for two touchdowns in the final eight minutes, but ended up suffering its third non-conference home loss since 1991.
Virginia Tech ranked in the top 10 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in both total defense (279.4 yards per game) and scoring defense (16.7 points per game) a year ago, and looked strong in last Saturday’s 52-10 win over Marshall.
After a shaky season opener, yielding 498 yards to then-No. 5 Alabama in a 34-24 loss at the Georgia Dome, the Hokies tightened up against the Thundering Herd, allowing 252 yards.
“Coming off of last week and people asking, ‘Could we get back up?’ ‘How much is that going to hurt us?’ ‘Mentally, what did it do to us?’” coach Frank Beamer said. “I thought our kids and coaches went out there and gave them a response today.”
Tech’s offense also came out rejuvenated.
The Hokies gained 155 total yards in the opener, but surpassed that total in the first quarter against Marshall.
Virginia Tech rolled up 444 of its 605 yards on the ground, as Ryan Williams and fellow freshman David Wilson each rushed for more than 160, a first in modern school history.
“We just needed to prove to ourselves that we can do it,” said Williams, who had 164 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries.
Virginia Tech has proven tough to beat at home against non-conference opponents, winning 31 straight such games since a 36-32 loss to then-No. 16 Virginia in 1998.
Although Lane Stadium is widely regarded as a tough venue for visitors, Pelini isn’t worried about the crowd noise affecting his team.
“The fans aren’t playing,” he said. “It’s 11 on 11. It’s between the lines, and you have to execute.”
Pelini saw improvement from his defense last Saturday but it still isn’t playing up to his standards. He said there were too many missed tackles and busted assignments from a defense that gave up eight plays of 15 yards or longer to the Red Wolves.
“There’s not a football team out there that’s a ‘Steel Curtain’ with Super Bowl-champion execution in Week 2,” Pelini said. “That’s why you practice. I expect our team to be fully prepared to go on the road and meet the challenge ahead.”