September 23, 2008

Dillard, Huskers ready to get rough with Hokies

Nebraska's defense certainly hasn't made it a secret about how much its looking forward to facing Virginia Tech's more physical, run-based offense on Saturday. However, no player may be more eager than junior MIKE linebacker Phillip Dillard.

When asked how he felt about being able to finally play a physical offense as opposed to the pass-heavy schemes the Huskers have faced in their first three games this season, Dillard made it seem as if he's been counting down the days until Saturday since the season began.

"It's kind of like Christmas, 'cause we haven't got to (play a running team)," Dillard said. "It feels good to finally play a team that lines up and runs the ball. It kind of shows your character and how physical you're going to be. I think it's going to be a great test. I'm looking forward to it.

"All that passing, doing nothing but passing kind of is annoying. But they're going to be running now, so it's going to show our true colors."

Dillard said there have been times this season where he felt out of place on defense, as his role has primarily been more of a safety in coverage than a linebacker focusing the line of scrimmage.

For Dillard, playing the run fits his strengths far more than dropping back into coverage. In fact, defending the run is what Dillard said defines him as a football player.

"I love being physical," he said. "It's the only way you get to take out your anger and be physical legally. That's how we're going to take it."

He didn't stop there, either.

"I have always been a guy that likes to play physical," he said. "That's just how I was brought up. You don't go out playing like no punk and being all soft and patty caking. In my family, my dad gets angry when he sees that, he can't stand it. And I can't stand it. And Coach (Bo Pelini) can't stand being soft either. That's one thing he strives on is being physical.

"You've gotta take it to them and not accept getting hit, like a boxing match. You don't want to accept blows from Tyson, you want to go at him. That's the mindset I take into every practice and every game. Anything I do, you always want to strike first. You want to let them know that you're there, so that regardless of how they're doing in a game they're going to know that you're going to hit them."

Tuesday Practice Takes
No maroon 5?: As has been previously noted, Nebraska's scout team players have been donning maroon practice jerseys this week to simulate the Virginia Tech offense and defense. However, none of the players are wearing the coveted No. 5 jersey worn by Hokie quarterback Tyrod Taylor. How much numbers mean on scout team jerseys is certainly debatable, but after Pelini's comments yesterday about NU not having anyone who could simulate Taylor in practice, you have to wonder what the Huskers are doing to prepare themselves for Taylor's dual-threat ability.
Running into Lincoln: Much has been made already about how Virginia Tech likes to run the football, but the fact becomes even more evident when looking at the Hokies' season stats. Through four games, the Hokies have run the ball 171 times for 691 yards and eight touchdowns. Taylor and fellow quarterback Sean Glennon have combined to throw just 72 passes for 396 yards and only one touchdown. In comparison, Nebraska has already thrown 87 passes in three games.
Injury report:
What's on tap next: Nebraska initially began its two hour and 15 minute full-padded practice inside Memorial Stadium, but moved to the Hawks Center on Tuesday. The Huskers will come back for another full-padded workout on Wednesday, which will likely be held in the stadium. < td>

Beck, Sanders happy with their respective positions so far

Through three games, two of the most talked about units for Nebraska have been the running backs and defensive secondary. Running backs coach Tim Beck and defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders both gave their evaluations of their positions to this point in the season, and both seemed fairly pleased with what they've seen.

For Beck, he's been most happy with how his players have accepted NU's running back-by-committee system and how they haven't shown any frustration with not getting the ball as much as they might like.

"Very happy. Very pleased," Beck said. "They've all worked hard. They've not given up. They realize they're going to get opportunities to play, so our practices are competitive. I think they realize that one any given day any one of them could be the guy who we hang our. So they all have to be ready."

Sanders was a bit more critical of his secondary's performance thus far, but overall said he's been pleased with how his players have shown improvement each week. The biggest progress Sanders has noticed has been how his players - especially four who have made their first-career starts this season - have adjusted to playing on the big stage in front of 80,000-plus fans.

"As a coach, you're always going to be overcritical," Sanders said. "It's kind of like your kids; you're always going to be a little harder on your kids than others. We've been a little inconsistent. We've played well at times, we've played bad at times. You kind of see that with a young group. But now, we've been through three games. They've played a lot of football. Now you'd like to see them take that next step.

"I think we saw a little progress in this past game, but we still have a long way to go. I'm pleased with their willingness and desire to get better."

Watson not intimidated by Hokie defense

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson knows all about what Virginia Tech's defense brings to the table. Once a member of the same coaching staff with Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster at Southern Illinois, Watson is well aware about Foster's propensity to pressure the quarterback all game with a variety of blitz packages.

He also knows how one of the Hokies' primary objectives defensively is to stop the run, meaning senior quarterback Joe Ganz could have to shoulder the majority of Nebraska's offensive production on Saturday.

What Watson knows as well, however, is that he doesn't plan on doing anything differently against the Hokies than what he's done all season.

"We're just going to go do what we do," Watson said. "When you start thinking about that kind of stuff, you're not thinking about what's important in the game. Our job is to win, to find one more point o the board than they have. We've got to do what it takes to win this football game."

Watson said because the Hokies aim to stop the run above all else, he expected to see similar defensive sets used by Western Michigan and San Jose State, both of which successfully contained NU's running game.

"They take a lot of pride in their defense," he said. "Anytime you play against a defense like this that's stingy against the run, you're going to play an eight- or nine-man box. You got to take advantage of the things that are their and you've got to find ways to run the football. We'll do that. We've got some things that I'm really excited about."

Because of that strategy, Watson acknowledged that Ganz would play a crucial role in the Huskers' success on Saturday. Because of Ganz's composure and awareness on the field, Watson said he was perfectly fine in entrusting him with the bulk of the offense.

"It helps that Joe knows football," Watson said. "Being mentally tough is one thing, but you gotta know what you're doing. He knows what he's doing, so I'm not worried about Joe. He's a tough kid. He knows what he's doing inside of our offense, so I'm not worried about that part."

With the Huskers now entering the thick of their schedule with Tech this weekend followed by the start of the Big 12 season, Watson was asked if he saved anything in his play calling in the first three games to use at this point.

"Did we hold things back? You end up holding things back just because you didn't get to them on the call sheet because they weren't necessary in that game, so yes," he said. "Was it by intentions, no, 'cause we're going to do whatever it takes to win football games. But yes, we have.

"You don't purposely hold things back. You don't guard them. You do what it takes to win games."

Quick hits

***Along with trying to help the Huskers to a victory on Saturday, sophomore Niles Paul will be playing for personal bragging rights. Before moving to Omaha, Paul lived in Virginia for a few years. While there, he made many friends, several of which are already predicting a Virginia Tech victory.

"I've got a few friends in Virginia," Paul said. "Not really any Virginia ties, just my friends talking a little trash to me. Just saying they're going to beat us, of course."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!