If there really were such thing as goal post shadows during Saturday night’s game at Memorial Stadium, Virginia Tech senior Victor Harris and his work on the Hokies’ defense and special teams made sure Nebraska became very familiar with theirs.
By burying the Huskers deep in their own end of the field for much of the first quarter, Harris and Virginia Tech were able to send Nebraska into an early hole from which it could never recover.
“Punt returns. The blocked kick. The field goals were great,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “I was proud of our special teams. When you play a good football team, and Nebraska’s a good football team, you’d better be good at special teams.”
Because of Harris, the problems started for the Huskers from the outset.
Nebraska ground out a total of 7 yards on its first possession. Harris field the ensuing punt at the Hokie 23-yard line, returned it 28 yards and the Hokies were in business.
While Virginia Tech was unable to do much with the short field, Brent Bowden’s punt pinned Nebraska at its 6 to start its second possession, and the field was officially tilted in the Hokies’ favor.
“The guys did a great job of blocking and gave the returners a chance to make plays. That’s just Beamer ball. We came out here and just wanted to be sound in all three areas of the game,” Harris said. “The safety really got the ball rolling. That changed the ball game right quick.”
Harris also haunted the Huskers the next two times they had the ball.
After Tech blocked Dan Titchener’s punt out of the back of the end zone for a safety, Harris took the free kick and returned it 16 yards to once again give the Hokies a short field.
Another punt pinned Nebraska at its 11. This time, Harris stepped in front of a Joe Ganz pass at the Husker 20 and returned it 15 yards. Darren Evans’ 1-yard run three plays later had the Hokies on top 9-0.
“I just baited it and baited it. I was favoring the low (receiver) and I saw his (Ganz’s) eyes,” Harris said. “He tried to squeeze it in there and I just came back for it.”
While Nebraska was able to cut the Tech lead to 9-7 late in the first period when Ganz hit Mike McNeill, Kenny Lewis took the ensuing kickoff, picked up where Harris left off by rolling 41 yards to the Hokies’ 44.
Thanks to Harris and company, Virginia Tech’s average starting field position in the first quarter was just outside the Nebraska 41. The Huskers started each of their four first-quarter drives just outside of their 20.
“That does a lot for momentum,” Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “You want to get it in there because you’re so close.”
All told, Harris ended up with 80 yards on four returns. He added six tackles.
Of course, Bowden was no slouch, either. Despite averaging 34.6 yards on five punts, three were downed inside the Husker 15. His final punt came with less than a minute to play and Nebraska needing a touchdown to complete its comeback.
““We’ve been good there. We’ve been good the last couple of weeks,” Beamer said. “Backing people up, field position is everything. Against a good football team like that you want to give them a long field for sure.”