September 17, 2009

Thursday notebook: Stopping Taylor is priority No.

There's little doubt about what player on Virginia Tech's offense warrants the most attention from opposing defenses, and this week likely won't be much different.


Since Nebraska officially started gearing its focus toward Saturday's showdown with the No. 13 Hokies, the main topic of discussion has been how the Huskers planned to slow down quarterback Tyrod Taylor.


With a rare combination of speed, exceptional scrambling ability and serviceable arm strength and accuracy, Taylor presents unique challenges to any defense he faces. While the Huskers might say otherwise, there's little question that Taylor has been priority No. 1 for the defense all week.


"He's a good football player," Pelini said. "I think he is more comfortable. I think he has grown. Just like anybody else who has played this game, the more reps you get, the more experience you get, the better you get. I think that's the case with Tyrod."


When NU squared off with the Hokies last season, Taylor put up a game-high 87 yards rushing and a touchdown on 15 carries. However, he completed just 9-of-15 passes for 171 yards in VT's 35-30 victory.


If anything, the biggest knock on Taylor has been his passing ability. While splitting snaps with former Hokie quarterback Sean Glennon last year, Taylor threw a total of just two touchdown passes the entire season compared to seven interceptions.


Even so, Pelini said Taylor still has the ability to make plays with his arm if defenses don't respect the passing game enough.


"I think he showed he can beat you with his arm," Pelini said. "They do a number of different things. You have to make sure you develop a plan that includes all the different aspects of what they can do offensively and execute it.


"This guy is capable of throwing the football. It's not like you can put 10 guys on the line of scrimmage and just say he's not capable of beating you any other way. That's unrealistic.


In short, Pelini said the best way for Nebraska to make sure Taylor doesn't burn them by air or by ground on Saturday is to stay focused on running the defense and playing with proper technique.


Sounds simple enough, right?


"This guy is a good college quarterback," Pelini said. "He's also a good college quarterback that can run and throw, so you have to be prepared to handle everything which makes it difficult."





Thursday practice takes
Silence is golden: Heading into a notoriously hostile environment this weekend in Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium, Nebraska's offense is expecting to operate under a heavy dose of crowd noise. That's why the Huskers have been working on using a silent snap count all this week in practice while pumping in artificial crowd noise through the Memorial Stadium speakers. Junior quarterback Zac Lee said the Huskers have not only responded well to the silent count, but he's actually found it easier than using a normal cadence at the line of scrimmage. "I think it's easier," Lee said. "I don't have to worry about the cadence, just keep my eyes up and keep looking at the defense. The snap's on (me) and (senior center Jacob Hickman). Jake will do a good job with that. We'll be fine."
Lee not buying into stats yet: Along with guiding Nebraska to a 2-0 start this season, Lee has quietly put up numbers that rank among the best in all of college football. In fact, through two games Lee ranks seventh nationally in passing efficiency (186.41), 16th in passing yards (553), and 20th in passing yards per game (267.5) and completions per game (21). While those stats are nice right now, Lee said he wouldn't put much into them at all about them until after the season. "I'm definitely happy about how I've performed, but I think there are things I can definitely improve on and do better," Lee said. "I think that's something to look at more at the end of the year and judge it from there."
Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini said there were no significant injuries to report, meaning Nebraska should be as close to 100 percent healthy heading into Saturday's game.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two hour helmets-only practice inside of Memorial Stadium on Thursday. The Huskers will go through a brief walk-thru practice on Friday before leaving for Blacksburg, Va., and finishing up the day with team meetings. Saturday's kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. (3:30 EST)



Okafor returns


In one of the stranger turn of events recently, redshirt freshman running back Collins Okafor was back at practice on Thursday just one day after Pelini announced Okafor had decided to leave the program prior to Wednesday's practice.


Unfortunately, none of the media in attendance realized Okafor had returned to the team until after meeting with Pelini for his post-practice interview, so no official statement on the situation was made.


The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Omaha native had been working strictly with Nebraska's scout team since the end of fall camp, and was arguably the seventh running back on the depth chart behind Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead, Lester Ward, Austin Jones, Marcus Mendoza and Dontrayevous Robinson.


Following Wednesday's practice, running backs coach Tim Beck said the Huskers would have missed the depth Okafor provided had he left the program, but made it seem as if his loss wouldn't have changed much in the rotation at running back.


"Certainly you'd love to have him around, but Collins made his decision," Beck said on Wednesday. "It hurts you depth-wise down the road, but it is what it is. You've got to continue. There's 150 guys on this team that are counting on you to do your job and are counting on the guys to go out and do their job. You've got to try and not let those things affect you."


Pelini says Huskers' are ready to "let it roll"


You can usually get a pretty good gauge of how Nebraska is going to fare each game based on Pelini's attitude following the final full practice of the week.


If a gambler were to place a bet after listening to Pelini on Thursday, the Huskers might seem like a pretty good pick.


"We feel good about where we are," Pelini said. "We'll find out where we are on Saturday. These (games) are the fun ones to play in. It will be a good test to see how far we've come and where we are."


As could be expected, Pelini said his team is as excited as ever to play in a game that's starting to gain some national attention.


With two ranked team squaring off in a season already full of upsets, Pelini said the Huskers are ready to see what they're made of under the spotlight.


"It's a challenge," he said. "The players are looking forward to it, I'm looking forward to it. Let's let it roll."


Quick hits


***Pelini was asked how senior linebacker Phillip Dillard has responded since being named the No. 1 WILL linebacker earlier this week. Oddly, Pelini was very brief with his answer.


"OK," Pelini said. "He's doing fine. We'll see. Yeah, he'll play some."


***Nebraska will decide its captains for Saturday's game on Friday.

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