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2010 Virginia Tech Football: What to Watch in the Orange Bowl vs. Stanford

No. 12 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2, 9-0) vs. No. 5 Stanford Cardinal (11-1, 8-1)
2011 Orange Bowl

The Team

  • A lot of times, bowl games come down to which team is motivated to be there. These games are vacations to some teams and missions for others. When two teams on vacation meet, it's a poor game. When a team on a mission plays a team on vacation, it's a blowout. But when two teams on missions play each other you get a pretty good game. I think we're going to get a pretty good game.
  • It's easy for Virginia Tech to say it's on a "business trip" in Miami, but that's pretty much impossible. Between the team events put on by the bowl committee and the distractions Miami offers, it's tough to be on a mission trip there. How Tech plays when the lights come on will show if it was truly a business trip or not. I'm hoping they put their money where their mouths are.
  • Both teams are dealing with distractions going into this game. Stanford has questions about the future of its head coach and the Hokies have questions about the future of their star running back. But what you shouldn't overlook is senior quarterback vs. sophomore quarterback in a big game. I'm interested to see if Tyrod Taylor, in his last game, can pull these guys together and get the second win over a Top 5 team in school history.
  • As always, a lot of these stats come from

Virginia Tech Offense vs. Stanford Defense

  • I think we're going to be able to run on these guys. The question is, how will we do it? We usually have success against odd-man fronts and Stanford runs a 3-4. The Cardinal don't exactly have a mountain at defensive tackle as Sione Fua goes 6-2, 306. How well he and inside linebackers Owen Marecic and Shayne Skov play the inside rush could determine how this game goes.
  • Stanford struggled against the run at times, especially against Oregon and Arizona State when those teams ran zone-read option. Tech has had success with the zone read earlier this season, but we haven't seen much of it late. I know I've said time and time again how much I hate running plays out of the shotgun, but against Stanford it could work as long as there's the threat of Tyrod keeping the ball and racing toward the edge.
  • The announcers will gush all game about Marecic, who plays both ways as an ILB and as the starting fullback. As with anyone who is able to do that, he's a tough customer.
  • The front seven might be a weakness for Stanford. The Cardinal were solid against the Pac 10, but they didn't have a lot of sacks during the season and a good deal of them came from their outside linebackers. Stanford will have to blitz to put pressure on Tyrod and this year he's made better decisions when he hasn't had time to throw vs. when he's been able to sit in the pocket.
  • Stanford was also last in the Pac 10 in tackles for loss, another reason I think we might be able to have success running against these guys.
  • Stanford's secondary is a ball-hawking bunch that collected 15 interceptions during Pac 10 play and led the league in INT rate. Richard Sherman, the left cornerback is a good one. He's also the only senior in the secondary.
  • One thing I did notice about Stanford's secondary is it tends to play soft coverage at the line of scrimmage. USC was able to take advantage of this with quick passes to the sideline that let their receivers get into space use their speed. I think Tech should do the same with screens and quick outs that get the ball in the hands of Jarrett Boykin and Marcus Davis quickly. If they can make the first guy miss, we'll be in business.
  • Third downs will be important for both teams. In conference play, Stanford allowed its opponents to convert 37.6 percent of third downs, third in the league. Tech of course, excelled on third down in ACC play and was second in the league at 48.4 percent.
  • The run game and third downs will be important because I think Tech needs to win the time of possession battle. It's usually a meaningless stat, but it might not be in this game. Stanford led the nation in TOP and Tech was the best in the ACC in league play. Another reason I think it'll be important is because Stanford's defense faced the 12th-fewest plays in the nation this year. If the Hokies are able to work the clock, it will be interesting to see how Stanford's defense responds in the fourth quarter.
  • The Hokies also have to protect the ball in this game. Both teams are excellent at ball security and are No. 1 and No. 3 in the nation in turnover margin. That means every turnover is going to critical in this game.

Virginia Tech Defense vs. Stanford Offense

  • The obvious player to watch in this game is Andrew Luck, and with good reason. However, Luck is made even better by the players around him. Stanford has a very good ground attack and a fantastic offensive line, which makes life very easy for Luck.
  • First, the offensive line. This year, it's given up five sacks and 51 tackles for loss, both of which are in the top 10 percent in the nation. It also paved the way for a rushing attack that averaged 4.8 yards per carry in Pac 10 play, third in the league.
  • The O-line has two juniors and three fifth-year seniors, led by Chase Beeler. I think Beeler will be a key player in this game because Virginia Tech has to find a way to stop Stanford's rushing attack. Andrew Luck is a surgical quarterback and he's going to get his yards. But if Tech can slow down the ground game, particularly in the red zone, they can force field goals and punts and give the offense a fighting chance. Scott from Rule of Tree even said he's more worried about the possibility of the Hokies stopping Stanford on the ground than getting pressure on Luck.
  • This is a large offensive line we're facing (though not as big as Miami's) which is going to amplify the loss of backer Lyndell Gibson because it makes our front seven smaller. The pressure will be on Bruce Taylor and the defensive tackles to clog running lanes and hold down Stanford's running backs.
  • As we said in the game guide, Stanford has a balanced offense, with an almost equal number of run and pass plays in the first quarter. Where that balance starts to go away is in the red zone, where they ran more than twice as often as they passed (133 to 62). That's more unbalanced than even the run-minded Hokies (111-39). Stanford had its share of success in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on two-thirds of its RZ possessions in Pac 10 play, third in the conference.
  • The guys to watch in the red zone are, unsurprisingly, lead rusher Stepfan Taylor, who had 50 red zone carries and lead receiver Doug Baldwin, who had eight red zone receptions (out of 39 completions). Other guys to watch are running back Tyler Gaffney, who had 24 of his 58 carries in the red zone and tight end Zach Ertz, who had four of his 14 catches in the RZ, three of them touchdowns.
  • Baldwin should have some big help in the receiving corps for the Orange Bowl in Chris Owusu. Owusu is Luck's biggest target (6-2, 200) and has a lot of speed. While Baldwin and the Whalens brothers are more possession receivers, Owusu is a better deep thread and could give the Hokies trouble.
  • You're going to see about every formation from Stanford in this game, including the pistol, which they'll run some zone-read option out of. Luck has a lot of speed for a guy his size and has delivered a couple of big hits this year, to a Cal player on a long run and to a USC defender who picked up a fumble in front of him.
  • I expect the Hokies to play nickel against Stanford and I expect the Cardinal to put a lot of pressure on Davon Morgan and Antone Exum. The Cardinal run a lot of crossing patterns designed to confuse safeties and linebackers in the middle of the field and get their receivers open in space.
  • Luck, meanwhile, is the most accurate passer we've faced this year. He always throws to the correct shoulder and hits his man in stride, which in turn produces a lot of yards after the catch. He's also the best at following his progression and finding the open man that we've faced. That's why it's important for the Hokies to get pressure on him. In a dream scenario, the Hokies will be able to get pressure with the front four. Unfortunately I don't think it's going to happen.

Watch the Box Score

  • Turnovers
  • Stanford Yards Per Carry
  • Stanford 3rd Down Pct.
  • Virginia Tech Time of Possession

Virginia Tech Players to Watch

  • 34 - Ryan Williams, So., RB
  • 81 - Jarrett Boykin, Jr., WR
  • 33 - Chris Drager, Jr., DE
  • 2 - Davon Morgan, Sr., ROV

Stanford Players to Watch

  • 12 - Andrew Luck, So., QB
  • 72 - Chase Beeler, Sr., C
  • 92 - Sione Fua, Sr., DT
  • 44 - Chase Thomas, Jr., LB

Final Score

Stanford 35, Virginia Tech 31