CFN Bowl Analysis ... Orange
Stanford 40 ... Virginia Tech 12
(Forgive me as I prepare for the tap dancing spin I might have to come up with next week at this time after saying all season long that the Pac 10 top teams were getting way too much respect.)
Virginia Tech didn't stink. This wasn't Michigan looking like Larry, Moe, and Curly in the Gator Bowl, and this wasn't Michigan State, who didn't appear ready to watch the Capital One Bowl, much less play in it. The Hokies were simply outplayed and outexecuted by a fantastic team that turned its game up to another level on both sides of the ball, and for those who railed all year long that Stanford beat a fat load of jack squat to get to 11-1 – fine, guilty as charged – this was the moment that legitimized everything Jim Harbaugh's team did this year.
All things start with the lines, and the veteran Cardinal offensive front destroyed the Hokie defensive line time and again, opening up ten-mile wide holes for Jeremy Stewart and Stepfan Taylor to dash through. Andrew Luck is the most talented player in college football, at least as far as pro potential, and the last thing he needed was time to operate. He had ten days to throw.
The vaunted Virginia Tech running game was just a rumor as the Cardinal defensive line owned things up front, sacking Tyrod Taylor time and again and stuffing the ground game for just 67 net yards. Darren Evans only got free for one play, and Taylor was able to scramble for one nice run. That was it. Ryan Williams and David Wilson combined for just six carries, and neither one was having much luck against the swarming Stanford defensive front, anyway.
For Virginia Tech, this is yet another moment that keeps the program from becoming the superpower it deserves the respect of being. Four die-hard Hokie fans, and site regulars, jump all over me whenever I suggest that Virginia Tech isn't an elite of the elite program, but winning ACC titles isn't enough when the lights go out for the national statement games. Give Frank Beamer's team, particularly Taylor, credit for fighting the good fight for a full sixty minutes, but there wasn't any prayer against a phenomenally-coached Cardinal team that played to perfection, at least in the second half.
But don't just assume the party is about to stop if and when Harbaugh and Luck are gone next week.
Give Harbaugh credit; whatever he's slinging to recruits, they're buying. According to the still-early Scout.com rankings, Stanford is fifth in the nation in recruiting so far, so the shelves should be well-stocked for the coach who gets to try to follow in Harbaugh's footsteps. But it doesn't matter who takes over; it'll be impossible to match what Harbaugh has done and it'll be impossible to match what Stanford did this year.
If Oregon beats Auburn, then Stanford should finish the year no worse than third, and possible No. 2, but no matter what happens, this will be a top four finish and with the respect that comes with it.
- How complete was the domination? Virginia Tech allowed 348 yards per game this year and was first in the ACC in scoring offense. The Cardinal ripped off 534 yards of total offense and the defense allowed ten offensive points.
- Please, for the love of all that is right and just, will someone in the NFL give Jon Gruden a job? Between the gushing over every player who did everything positive, and Ron Jaworski using the names Drew Brees, Tim Tebow, and Michael Vick in the same paragraph as Tyrod Taylor, who won't come within 16 miles of being an NFL quarterback, it was a rough listen.
- Fortunately for Virginia Tech, it's not like the city of Miami turned out in droves to fill the stadium to watch the blowout. ESPN, overhead camera shots of a half-empty NFL stadium doesn't exactly give the feel that the Orange Bowl matters.
- I said it at the time and it looks double-true now; the BCS screwed it up big-time. It would've been far better if Connecticut had stayed east and played Virginia Tech in the Orange, and if Stanford had stayed west and had played Oklahoma in the Fiesta.
- I know, I know, I know, TCU won, but a Stanford-Wisconsin Rose Bowl would've been epic.
For Stanford fans, the celebration begins tonight, but it won't last quite as long as it should.
For the Cardinal, this was a remarkable year on the Farm. One loss and a possible No. 3 finish in the final rankings. Who could have imagined this degree of excellence and exposure for a program that was so downtrodden just a few years ago? However, with success comes a hefty price. Go ask how Connecticut feels today. Stanford is going to hold its collective breath over the next few days, as head coach Jim Harbaugh and QB Andrew Luck decide about their futures. Harbaugh has been a hot topic in Ann Arbor and numerous NFL cities, watching his salary demands explode over the next few days. Luck is considered the de facto No. 1 pick in April's draft. The two could be back in Palo Alto next year, but that doesn't appear likely. Go nuts, Cardinal fans. And then go light a candle. Your program could be about to suffer the kind of letdown that sucks most of the wind out of its sails.
- One of the unsung heroes of this magnificent Stanford season has been first-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. While the offense has gotten most of the attention, the D has quietly been terrific, using the blitz and a 3-4 scheme to blow past expectations and blow up the Virginia Tech offensive line.
- No result in the Orange Bowl could diminish what Frank Beamer accomplished this season, guiding the Hokies from the depths of despair at 0-2 to 11 straight wins and another ACC championship. That said, Tech's futility versus top 5 opponents, now standing at 1-27, is downright alarming and a real hurdle to getting over the top.
- Tyrod Taylor is a fine quarterback with NFL potential. However, when Virginia Tech can't establish the run, it rarely wins. With so much talent in that backfield and a veteran line, it's shocking that the Hokies failed to get the ground game going and averaged less than two yards a carry. Stanford LB Shayne Skov, in particular, was an absolute unblockable beast.
By Matt Zemek
Much like this past Saturday's Fiesta Bowl, the final 28-point margin of the 2011 Orange Bowl is very deceiving. Oklahoma 48, Connecticut 20, why don't you meet Stanford 40, Virginia Tech 12?
On one hand, Stanford crushed Virginia Tech in the final 20 minutes with a level of icy cruelty that Oklahoma could never muster against Connecticut. On the other hand, Virginia Tech played a very solid first half, contained Stanford's offense, and looked to be a competitive equal, which Connecticut never showed against Oklahoma. On one hand, Virginia Tech faded in a big way once it encountered adversity. On the other hand, Connecticut was actually still competitive several minutes into the fourth quarter.
On one hand, Stanford at its very best in the Orange Bowl was easily superior to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. On the other hand, Stanford didn't bolt to a quick 14-0 lead, and the Pac-10 runner-up needed help to ultimately put away the Hokies in Miami. It's hard to determine if this 28-point pasting of Virginia Tech was more impressive than Oklahoma's 28-point win over Connecticut. Of course, Stanford beat a more accomplished and formidable opponent, but as brilliant as the Cardinal proved to be in the final 20 minutes – in a display of physicality that left the ACC champions reeling – they were shaky until the moment when the floodgates opened. Does one choose to admire Stanford's furious finishing kick or note the tenuous moments that preceded the game's turning point? It's a question worth mentioning… not to detract from Stanford's achievement or score any political points, but to merely zero in on the moment this game changed at Sun Life Stadium.
Your final impression of this game might be Stanford's pure precision in the final 20 minutes, but it's very much worth remembering that before the Cardinal turned on the afterburners to leave Virginia Tech in the dust, this game's outcome hung in the balance, and it easily could have tilted toward the Hokies.
Remember Stanford's drive early in the third quarter, with the Cardinal clinging to a 13-12 lead? Remember Andrew Luck's ill-advised pass with a Tech defender on the verge of dragging him down? Remember how the Hokies should have pulled down an interception on the play, an interception that had a great chance to become a pick-six? If the Hokies make that play, this is a very different ballgame, and Stanford's thermonuclear finish doesn't unfold. A BCS bowl that was very much like this contest was the 2008 Rose Bowl between USC and Illinois. USC led 21-10 but was slogging through the motions in the third quarter. Then, Illinois got to the USC 4 but fumbled. Only after that lucky escape did the Trojans pour on the passion and summon the full measure of their quality. What had been a close game turned into a 49-17 thumping. This game was similar. Praise Stanford by all means, but let's remember that if one play in this game turned out differently, the flow and trajectory of the 2011 Orange Bowl would have acquired different patterns and arcs.
--Like Randy Edsall of Connecticut (before the move to Maryland, of course) in the fourth quarter of the Fiesta Bowl, Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech basically told the world that he was content with losing this game when his team fell behind by 14 points. Late in the third quarter, after Stanford pieced together the three-punch sequence that landed Tech on the canvas (the interception on its own 2, followed by a 57-yard run and a 41-yard touchdown pass to turn what could have been a 19-19 game into a 26-12 Cardinal advantage), the Hokies needed seven points. Period. End of debate. Yet, with a fourth-and-three near midfield on this must-score drive, Beamer chose to punt. Keep in mind that Stanford had just driven the ball 98 yards on two plays. The notion of gaining field position against Stanford's offense was and is laughable; that Beamer gave it credence when losing by 14 points is even harder to believe. Naturally, Stanford got the ball back at its own 13 and moved 87 yards in just over five minutes for a game-sealing touchdown. Why two good coaches, Edsall and Beamer, could punt when trailing by 14 points to high-caliber opponents well into the second halves of BCS bowl games is beyond me.
--This was the first-ever BCS bowl matchup between the ACC and the Pac-10. The first-ever BCS bowl matchup between the SEC and the Pac-10 occurs next Monday in Glendale when Auburn meets Oregon. The Pac-10 has not yet played the Big East. Maybe, just maybe, the Pac-10 should get a chance to play a league other than the Big Ten in BCS bowls. Maybe, just maybe, the SEC should also get a chance to play a league other than the Big Ten in BCS bowls. College football, in both the regular season and in the BCS bowls, needs to figure out ways to make more conferences play each other instead of having the same old lock-ins and tie-ins. The Pac-10 is only the third-best conference in America this year, but it deserves the chance to play the SEC a lot more often… even if that means losing to the Big Ten.
Some conference matchups occur a lot more than others, in both the regular season and in bowl games. That's one of the worst and most unfair elements about the sport's current structure and layout. Again, the drum needs to be banged hard: Have 11 confirmed games on a regular season schedule, and then leave date No. 12 open for the first week of December. Instead of playing Tennessee Tech and Wake Forest in respective early-season cupcake games, TCU and Stanford could have played 11 games and then engaged in a BracketBuster-style battle on Dec. 4. Who wouldn't want to see that matchup right now? (Or TCU –Alabama? The Crimson Tide could have played 11 games and lopped Georgia State off their schedule, saving room for TCU on Dec. 4. Oh, wait – that makes too much sense, doesn't it? Yeah, that's such a persistent problem in college football.
--Another interesting BCS bowl stat to emerge from this game is that while the Pac-10 sits in fourth place among AQ conferences in terms of at-large BCS bowl bids (3), it is 3-0 in those three games. Oregon State, as an at-large team, beat Notre Dame in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. USC, as an at-large team, beat Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl. Now, Stanford has justified its at-large bid. Maybe, just maybe, the Pac-10 should get more shots in BCS bowls, just as the non-AQ conferences – 4-1 in BCS bowls not played against each other – should also receive more chances in these spotlight games.
--Don't be hard on Virginia Tech. The Hokies paid for one very costly drop of a potential pick-six. This wasn't a coaching loss; this was a player's loss. When a team drops an interception, gives up a long pass, and throws an interception on its opponent's 2-yard line, players aren't making plays. Stanford simply had better players and, in particular, a superior left side on its offensive line. Virginia Tech did very well to shrug off its early two-game losing streak and go 9-0 in the ACC. Once again, if you want to rip a program, start with the likes of UCLA and Clemson; put the Hokies far, far, FAR down on your list.