Nebraska faces its toughest test of the young 2008 season when Virginia Tech visits Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. The Huskers rolled to victories over Western Michigan, San Jose State and New Mexico State, before enjoying a bye week. The Hokies will enter Lincoln with a 3-1 record, following a come-from-behind 20-17 win over North Carolina. Virginia Tech has won three straight games since opening with a loss to East Carolina. The matchup pits two teams just outside the national rankings, with the winner in good position to enter the rankings next week. The game against Virginia Tech is the first of four 2008 Husker opponents who finished 2007 ranked in the top 10.
The meeting between Nebraska and Virginia Tech will be the second between the two schools and the first in the regular season. Nebraska defeated Virginia Tech, 41-24, in the 1996 Orange Bowl in the only previous matchup. The two schools will meet in Blacksburg in 2009.
Nebraska: Bo Pelini (Ohio State ‘90) is in his first season with the Huskers. Pelini owns a 4-0 career record. In addition to three 2008 wins, Pelini led Nebraska to a victory as interim head coach in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. Pelini has served as defensive coordinator at Nebraska, Oklahoma and most recently LSU over the past five seasons. Previously, he had stints as an NFL assistant with San Francisco, New England and Green Bay.
Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech ‘69) is in his 22nd year as the head coach at his alma mater. Beamer has compiled a 170-86-2 record with the Hokies and has guided his teams to nine 10-win seasons, including each of the last four years. Beamer is 212-108-4 in his 28th season overall as a collegiate head coach after serving six years at Murray State. Beamer is 0-1 against Nebraska.
Nebraska Looking for Perfect Non-Conference Record
Nebraska will complete non-conference action against Virginia Tech on Saturday night. The Huskers are a perfect 3-0 against non-league opponents to open the 2008 season and have guaranteed themselves a winning non-conference record for the 27th straight season since a 2-2 record in 1981.
A victory over Virginia Tech would allow Nebraska to finish non-conference action unbeaten for the first time since 2005, when NU was 3-0 in non-league action. The Huskers have completed non-conference play unblemished 12 times in the past 20 seasons.
Husker Offense Looking to Pile up Big Numbers
Nebraska had one of the nation’s most explosive offenses in the second half of the 2007 season. NU finished last year ranked ninth nationally in total offense at 468.3 yards per game, and seventh in passing at 323.8 yards per game. The passing average was a school record, while the total offensive average was Nebraska’s best in a decade.
Many of the key players in that effort returned to the 2008 offense, and early in the season, the unit has shown the ability to again rank among the nation’s best. The Huskers are averaging 450.3 yards per game (20th nationally) and 40.0 points per contest (16th nationally) through three games.
Nebraska boasts impressive numbers over the past several games dating back to last season.
Nebraska has gained 400 total yards or more in seven of the past eight games.
The Huskers have passed for at least 200 yards in the past eight games, with five 300-yard games in that stretch.
The Huskers are averaging 524.5 yards per game over their past six games, including 365.3 yards per game through the air. Nebraska is averaging 47.2 points over its past five games.
Among Nebraska’s offensive explosion to finish last year was a 702-yard day against Kansas State, the 10th-best output in school history and the best since 1995.
Huskers Continuing to Light up the Scoreboard
Nebraska has scored at least 35 points in each of its last six games dating back to last season, the third-longest streak of 35-plus point outings in school history. The 1989 Huskers scored at least 35 points in eight straight games, while the school record is 13 straight games, which covered the entire 1995 season and the first game of the 1996 campaign.
Nebraska has scored five touchdowns in each of its first three games and has scored five or more touchdowns in each of its last six games.
The last time Nebraska scored at least five touchdowns in six or more straight games was during the 1989 season. Nebraska opened that year by scoring five or more touchdowns in each of the first eight games.
During the current streak, Nebraska has scored 37 touchdowns, averaging more than six touchdowns per game. That marks the Huskers’ best production since NU also scored 37 touchdowns in a six-game stretch in 2000.
Nebraska’s 120 points through three games is its second-best scoring output in the first three games in the past 12 seasons.
The scoring production has allowed Nebraska to win each of its first three games by more than three touchdowns for the first time since 1995.
Strong Starts Fueling Huskers
Nebraska has quickly made a habit of starting fast under Head Coach Bo Pelini, as the Huskers have started strong in the opening quarter of both halves. NU has outscored its opponents 35-6 in the first quarter and 24-7 in the third for a combined total of 59-13 in the two quarters.
Nebraska has also outscored its opponents in the second and the fourth quarters, but by a smaller margin of 51-30.
The strong starts come one season after the Huskers struggled with slow starts. Last season, NU was outscored 101-76 in the opening quarter and 131-87 in the third. While the Huskers outscored their opponents in both the second and fourth quarters a year ago, opponents outscored Nebraska by 69 points in the first and third quarters combined.
Ganz Making Rapid Ascension in NU Record Books
Senior quarterback Joe Ganz has been the man directing the high-octance Husker offense over the past six games. Ganz started the final three games of the 2007 season and is firmly entrenched as NU’s starter this fall. The Palos Heights, Ill., native has been outstanding since taking over the quarterback role.
Ganz has thrown for at least 345 yards in four of his six career starts. He is the only quarterback in school history with four 300-yard passing games. He also produced three of the five 400-yard passing days in school history in his three starts last season and the top two passing games in NU history – 510 yards against Kansas State and 484 yards at Colorado. He also posted the top two total offense games in NU history with 528 yards against KSU and 521 vs. Colorado.
Against San Jose State, Ganz became the 16th player in school history with 2,000 career passing yards, and he could move well into the top 10 during his senior season. He enters the Virginia Tech game with 2,276 career passing yards to rank 13th on the career list.
Ganz Joins Rare Company Against Aggies
Ganz joined a pair of Heisman Trophy winners in the Nebraska record books against New Mexico State. The senior scored touchdowns with his feet, arm and hands, achieving a feat duplicated at Nebraska by only 1972 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers and 2001 Heisman winner Eric Crouch.
In the second quarter, Ganz was on the receiving end of Marlon Lucky’s third career touchdown pass and the first touchdown reception by a Nebraska quarterback in seven seasons. Later in the quarter, Ganz had a 33-yard touchdown run on an option keeper to give the Huskers a 21-0 edge. He completed football’s version of the cycle with a 35-yard scoring strike to tight end Mike McNeill in the third quarter. Ironically, Lucky nearly duplicated Ganz’s feat, needing only a TD reception to join Ganz in the elite company.
Rodgers first accomplished the feat in the 1973 Orange Bowl against Notre Dame, while Crouch matched the trifecta against California in 1999.
Husker Defense Showing Play-Making Ability in 200
One of the hallmarks of Bo Pelini’s defenses has been play-making ability. Nebraska has flashed the ability to be a disruptive defensive unit in 2008, and has come up with big plays in key situations.
Nebraska has nine sacks in three games in 2008. NU had four sacks for 28 yards against Western Michigan, before adding two against San Jose State and three in the win over New Mexico State. Last season, NU finished with 13 sacks, including five games without a single sack. Nebraska’s 3.0 sacks per game is tied for 10th nationally.
NU has had two takeaways in each of the first three games, after forcing just one turnover in the final seven games of last season. The defense had just 11 takeaways the entire 2007 season.
Nebraska held Western Michigan to just eight yards rushing. The rushing total was the lowest by a Nebraska opponent since Maine had -6 yards rushing in the 2005 season opener. Nebraska is allowing 77.7 rushing yards per game to rank 18th nationally in rushing defense.
Husker "D" Heats up in Red Zone
Nebraska has shown great defensive improvement in the red zone. In 2007, opponents scored 92 percent of the time they made it to the red zone. This season, the Huskers have allowed their opponents to score on only 57 percent of their trips to the red zone, a total that ranks 10th nationally.
The Husker defense has already made more defensive stops in the red zone through the first three games of this season than it did all of last season. In 2007, opponents failed to score just five times after entering the red zone. This season, the defense has held the opponent off the scoreboard six times in 14 tries. The 2008 Huskers have also held the opponent without a touchdown nine times, while last year’s unit allowed 46 red-zone touchdowns.
In the Huskers’ last game against New Mexico State, the Aggies advanced to the red zone four times but came away with just seven points. The only time NMSU found the scoreboard in the red zone was in the fourth quarter, when a Nebraska turnover set the Aggies up with a first-and-goal situation at the three-yard line.
The defensive success in the red zone has helped Nebraska to rank 22nd nationally in scoring defense at 14.3 points per game. The Huskers have allowed just one touchdown in each of the past two games. That marks the first time since 2005 that Nebraska has allowed back-to-back opponents just a single touchdown. In the first three games of 2005, NU allowed just one touchdown and three field goals.