Stanford pours it on
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. - Over the past month, Virginia Tech's players and coaches attempted to enjoy the fruits of their remarkable turnaround to this season. It began in such embarrassing fashion - with two consecutive losses; one came against division I-AA James Madison - and yet ended so spectacularly.
Try as they might to savor their 11-game winning streak, though, an unmistakable refrain developed amongst the Hokies: Any sort of validation needed to include a victory in Monday night's Orange Bowl.
But after standing toe-to-toe for one half with Stanford, Virginia Tech's season ended exactly the way it started - with another loss to a top-five opponent. The Hokies could not overcome a disastrous start to the second half, falling to the Cardinal, 40-12, at Sun Life Stadium.
Trailing 13-12 at halftime, the game got away from Virginia Tech in a matter of moments. Stanford, which finished the game with 528 yards of offense, scored touchdowns on its first four possessions after halftime, while the Hokies were held scoreless in the second half. First, it was Stanford fullback Owen Marecic, who capped a nine-play drive that chewed up nearly nine minutes with a one-yard touchdown run to begin the half.
Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor only made matters worse when he threw just his fifth interception of the season to Stanford defensive back Delano Howell on the Hokies' ensuing drive.
Luck made no such error given an opportunity to shut the door on Virginia Tech's season.
Following a 56-yard run by running back Stepfan Taylor, Luck hit tight end Coby Fleener for a 42-yard touchdown pass. On the Cardinal's next possession, he found Fleener again, this time for a 58-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
At that point, Stanford led 33-12, the game essentially over before the Hokies knew what hit them. Luck had completed eight of his nine passes to begin the second half, for 163 yards. He finished the contest 18 of 23 for 287 yards - 201 of which came in the second half - and threw four touchdown passes. Fleener had a career-high 172 receiving yards, and added a third touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter.
Virginia Tech can blame a defense that simply gave up too many big plays, and an offensive line that could not give Taylor nearly enough time to find receivers or open up running lanes for the Hokies' talented running backs.
Stanford had six plays of 25 yards or longer, while Virginia Tech's three running backs accounted for just 45 yards on the ground.
Meanwhile, Taylor's final game in a Virginia Tech uniform ended inauspiciously. He was sacked seven times and completed just 16 of his 34 passes for 224 yards. He did, however, deliver perhaps the signature moment of his career during the first half.
Facing third and goal from the 11-yard line in the second quarter, Taylor scrambled to his left and then avoided Marecic, who also plays linebacker, with a deft 360-degree spin, stopping just before his feet touched the Cardinal sideline at the 19-yard-line. A moment later, he fired a dart toward the end zone and running back David Wilson made a diving catch to give Virginia Tech its first and only lead of the contest, 9-7.
The game began with a series of defensive stops, but Stanford got the scoring started via an unlikely source. Senior running back Jeremy Stewart broke loose around left tackle on a 60-yard touchdown run to give the Cardinal a 7-0 lead. Stewart had just 38 yards rushing all season entering the game.
Virginia Tech responded when defensive tackle John Graves swarmed Luck near the goal line. One of Luck's few mistakes of the game came as a result. His desperation throw was batted back toward the end zone by Virginia Tech's Antoine Hopkins and landed directly into the hands of offensive lineman Derek Hall, who could only fall to ground. The play resulted in a Virginia Tech safety.
But Luck came right back with his first touchdown pass of the night, a 25-yard throw to tight end Zach Ertz. This, as it turned out, would become a common theme.
The Hokies simply lacked the firepower to keep up with Luck and the Cardinal, and an improbable winning streak came to an end more than three months after it began.