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T A D    S T R Y K E R
September 12, 2009

Most college football observers tend to be a bit pessimistic about a team with an inexperienced quarterback, and I think I fall into that category. So when it became evident that Nebraska would open its 2009 season with a signal caller who had completed fewer than five career passes in his major-college career, I had one consolation.

Judging by the Cornhuskers’ returning starters in the offensive and defensive lines, and at running back, I thought the Huskers would be able to play consistently good defense and run well enough to keep Lee out of trouble. Consider this: Cody Green has more game experience with the Huskers today than Zac Lee did just two weeks ago.

It turns out that Lee has the offense playing more consistently than the defense in the first two games of the season. Frankly, he has made a faster start than I thought he would. Lee has been more consistent than the Nebraska running game.

Nebraska took care of business in its first two contests, winning by 46 and 29. Now comes the trip to Virginia Tech. I’d feel a lot more comfortable about it if the Huskers were running the ball and stopping the run with consistency, but they’re not. Arkansas State outrushed NU 143-136 and had 10 more rushing attempts.

Am I being too picky about a defense that has yet to allow an opponent to score in double figures?

I don’t think so. Nebraska has not looked all that tough on the defensive line. Ndamukong Suh has played well despite being consistently double-teamed, but there have been numerous lapses in concentration overall. That is understandable in a young linebacking corps, but not in the largely veteran d-line.


Consider how the Red Wolves smashed NU in the mouth with running plays of seven and 16 yards coming off their own goal line in the third quarter. The tackling was sloppy at times, and the Huskers forced just one turnover. This does not appear to be a defense that’s ready to dominate anytime soon, but considering how low it fell in 2007 and how much ground it had to make up, maybe I’m being a bit unrealistic.

One positive sign: When Nebraska made a defensive bust in coverage in the middle of the third quarter, the Huskers had the speed to run down the Red Wolf receiver from behind and ended up stopping Arkansas State on downs. And four sacks are a good sign.

Meanwhile, on offense, Lee completed 27 of 35 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns. He could have done more had Shawn Watson allowed him to. He looks comfortable and in command.

Looks like it’s “In Zac we trust” when the Huskers travel to Blacksburg. We’ll see how he does in his first road start. It will be a major testing ground for the Huskers, who have not defeated a Top-20-rated team on the road since September 1997 at Washington. In fact, they have not defeated a Top 20 team anywhere since the 2005 Alamo Bowl win over Michigan. The biggest road win this decade was a 28-27 victory over No. 24 Texas A&M on Nov. 11, 2006, on Zac Taylor’s lob pass to Maurice Purify in the final minute.

Virginia Tech, which lost to Alabama to open the season and and then pummeled Marshall, will go into Saturday’s game rated in the top 15, with its traditionally good defense and special teams ready to give Lee a rough afternoon.

Is Nebraska ready to win a tight, low-scoring game in Blacksburg? Look to the special teams, which looked solid overall against Arkansas State. They’ll need to be sound against Frank Beamer’s boys. But mostly, look to Zac Lee. He’ll set the tone in his first major test.


Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. | Archive