Pass Protection Key to Beating Hokies
Nebraska must do at lot right in order to defeat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Among the more obvious things you'll hear this week is not to give up the big plays on special teams that V-Tech is so famous for. Don't beat yourself with turnovers. Run the ball well. While it's important for the Huskers to at least be competitive on special teams, to limit turnovers and to at least mount a credible rushing attack, the game will really come down to how well NU can protect Zac Lee.
Recall the game a year ago. The Huskers gave up a safety on a blocked punt. An interception thrown by Nebraska set up a Hokie touchdown. A big punt return set up another Tech touchdown. A fumble by Todd Peterson ended any chance for Nebraska to win late. And throughout the game the Husker rushing game was mostly unsuccessful (though Roy Helu had a decent day with four carries for 21 yards and a touchdown). Joe Ganz actually had a pretty good day overall, averaging about ten yards per pass attempt. Take away his day and you all but take away any chance for the Huskers to win the game. If anything, you wonder what might have happened if the Huskers had called a few more pass plays, particularly on first down.
Why not suggest the game needs to be won by the Husker defense? Two reasons. First, it's a given that you can't allow the Hokies to score too many points. It's hard to envision a scenario where Virginia Tech scores forty or more points in regulation and loses. Second, Virginia Tech has shown that they will score points. You can hope to go into the Blacksburg and walk away with a 10-7 win, but it doesn't seem too likely. Virginia Tech has averaged 38 points in two games this year and scored 35 in Lincoln a year ago. Yes, NU's defense is probably better than last year, but so is that Tech offense. The Huskers will need to put points on the board to come away with a win.
Which brings us back to pass protection. Zac Lee has shown he can be almost absurdly efficient when given time. No, he won't have the luxury of time that he had against Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State. His receivers won't be as wide open as they have been. The rushing threat might not do as much to keep the defense honest. So the offensive line will have to get it done. When tight ends and running backs are asked to pass protect, they'll need to make their blocks as well. No holding penalties, no illegal blocks, just beating your man play after play up front.
Yes, Shawn Watson can do some things to help like calling up screens, draws, play-action and rollouts to try to buy Lee some time. But at the end of the day, it will likely be the NU offensive line that determines the outcome of the game.