Commentary

Hokies' Taylor takes step forward while Nebraska's defense stays in place

Originally Published: September 27, 2008
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Keep the black shirts on hangers for at least another season.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesBo Pelini wasn't happy with his defense's performance against Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech's 35-30 victory over Nebraska at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night showed the Cornhuskers still aren't ready to rekindle the glory days of the great defenses of their past.

In fact, Nebraska's defense might need black skirts after No. 6 Missouri and Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Daniel play here next weekend.

The Hokies, despite having an inexperienced quarterback and a group of entirely new receivers and running backs, produced a season-high 21 first downs, 171 passing yards and 35 points against the Cornhuskers. It was Virginia Tech's fourth consecutive win after it lost its opener to East Carolina 27-22 on Aug. 30.

"I think we're a better football team than we were a few weeks ago," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.

Nebraska has to figure out how to fix its defense in a hurry. Virginia Tech went 6-for-6 in the red zone and 7-for-17 on third downs. The Hokies led 28-10 late in the third quarter, then held off Nebraska's furious rally at the end.

"We gave them a lot," said Nebraska first-year head coach Bo Pelini, who helped LSU win the 2008 BCS national championship as its defensive coordinator. "They earned some things, but we just made a lot of mistakes out there tonight. We didn't play well enough to win the football game against a pretty quality, talented football team. You have to play good."

The Cornhuskers didn't play well against Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who made his fourth start after beginning the season behind senior Sean Glennon. Against Nebraska, Taylor ran for 87 rushing yards and one touchdown and threw for 171 yards on 9-for-15 passing.

Taylor repeatedly hurt the Cornhuskers by scrambling when the pocket collapsed, often beating defenders to the corner. Taylor set up a field goal with a 30-yard run and also had a 20-yard gain in the fourth quarter.

"We couldn't stop him from running the ball," Nebraska linebacker Cody Glenn said. "There were some breakdowns, but there were some plays where he just got out of the pocket and made plays."

The score might have been worse in the first half, but Taylor continued to struggle with his accuracy on passes. Five Virginia Tech drives ended inside Nebraska territory during the first half, but the Hokies came away with only one touchdown and three field goals.

Still, Beamer was encouraged by how Taylor managed the offense and made plays with his legs. Taylor completed a 40-yard pass to tight end Andre Smith in the first quarter and a 34-yarder to flanker Jarrett Boykin in the second.

"He's getting better, just like our football team," Beamer said. "He can hurt you. A couple of times, he made a guy miss, and now he's throwing the ball down the field. He made a couple of good runs. He can hurt you, and that's what Tyrod brings to the table."

[+] EnlargeTyrod Taylor
AP Photo/Dave WeaverNebraska's defense couldn't get a handle on Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor all night.
It was hardly the defensive effort Pelini expected in his team's first big game. The Cornhuskers walloped lesser opponents in their previous three games, allowing only 43 points combined in victories over Western Michigan, San Jose State and New Mexico State.

Nebraska doesn't have much time to get better.

"I knew going into this game that we're a work in progress," Pelini said. "We're not a finished product yet. And you never are as a football team with a group of kids this age this early in the season. It doesn't change what we need to do. Win, lose, draw -- we still have a heck of a football team coming here to play us next week. We have to be ready to go."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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