NCF Nation: 2011 Orange Bowl

Discover Orange Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:37
PM ET
West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3) vs. Clemson Tigers (10-3)

Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

West Virginia take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: Go ahead and say it: West Virginia has a flair for the dramatic this season. The Mountaineers never made things easy on themselves, down to the final game of the season. They dropped a game at Syracuse (has anybody figured that out yet?), and lost at home to Louisville for the first time since 1990, forcing them to scramble to win a share of the Big East title for the sixth time in the past nine seasons. Under first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers were the preseason choice to win the Big East because of high expectations for a high-powered offense. Indeed, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin shattered passing and receiving records, but nobody would say things ran smoothly for this team all season. The defense, which lost seven starters off one of the best groups in the nation last season, struggled for a good portion of the season at stopping the run and getting a sustained pass rush.

Even Holgorsen will tell you the offense was not running as consistently as he would like because of struggles on the offensive line and in the ground game. Still, this team found a way to win down the stretch -- and that is the mark of a good team. Consider that it had to come from behind in eight of its nine wins this season. That includes the final three against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and USF. A loss in any of those games would have eliminated the Mountaineers from Big East contention. And in those three games, it was the defense that came up with huge plays -- from a fumble recovery in the end zone against the Bearcats; to 10 sacks against Pitt; to an interception return for a touchdown against USF and a fumble recovery late that gave the Mountaineers a chance to drive for the winning field goal. That victory got West Virginia to nine wins -- making it one of three programs in the nation to have at least nine wins in seven straight seasons.


Clemson take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Clemson defied all logic and most expectations when it flat-out dominated Virginia Tech in Saturday’s ACC championship game. After finishing the regular season with losses in three of their past four games, including an inexplicable implosion against NC State and the program’s third straight loss to rival South Carolina, the Tigers played their best and most complete game of the season against then-No. 5 Virginia Tech to win their first ACC title since 1991. It will be Clemson’s first appearance in the Orange Bowl since its national championship season in 1981. After starting the season 8-0, the Tigers struggled down the stretch with pass protection and turnovers, but it all seemed to come together against the Hokies. It’s the first time Clemson has had a 10-win season since 1990.

Clemson enters the Orange Bowl with the nation’s No. 21 passing offense under first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris, but West Virginia will also have to be wary of standout true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins and tight end Dwayne Allen. All three of them have had record-setting seasons, but Clemson’s defense has been inconsistent this year. The Tigers are allowing 26.15 points per game, and will face an offense that is averaging 34.92.

Clemson will be facing the Mountaineers for only the second time in its history. The Tigers won 27-7 in the 1989 Gator Bowl. Clemson has a 16-17 record in 33 bowl appearances. Overall, it is Clemson’s fourth appearance in the Orange Bowl (1951, 1957, 1982).

West Virginia to Orange Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
9:04
PM ET
As expected, West Virginia will represent the Big East in the Discover Orange Bowl in Miami on Jan. 4 against ACC champion Clemson.

The Mountaineers finished in a three-way tie atop the Big East with Louisville and Cincinnati. But they get the BCS berth because they are the highest ranked Big East team in the BCS standings. In fact, they are the only ranked Big East team in the final BCS standings, at No. 23.

West Virginia (9-3) won a record seventh Big East title this season. This is the 31st bowl appearance for the Mountaineers, and their first trip to the Discover Orange Bowl. This also is just the second meeting between West Virginia and Clemson and their first since the 1989 Gator Bowl.

First-year coach Dana Holgorsen, who was hired as the coach-in-waiting to Bill Stewart nearly a year ago, took over the program in the summer and got this team back to a BCS game for the first time since 2007. According to the Orange Bowl, Holgorsen is just the second coach in his first year to lead a team to this game. Chuck Fairbanks guided Oklahoma to an Orange Bowl win on Jan. 1, 1968.

Folks are going to be talking about offense headed into this one. West Virginia ranks No. 7 in the nation in passing offense (341.8 ypg.), No. 17 in total offense (459.6 ypg.) and No. 19 in scoring offense (34.92 ppg.). Clemson ranks No. 21 in passing offense (284.8 ypg.), No. 27 in scoring offense (33.62 ppg) and No. 29 in total offense (440.6 ypg.).

You have two great quarterbacks in Geno Smith and Tajh Boyd, and some outstanding receivers in Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Sammy Watkins. Lots of connections to South Florida as well among the players. Watkins played with West Virginia cornerback Brodrick Jenkins at South Fort Myers (Fla.) High.

Stanford: Did you know?

January, 3, 2011
1/03/11
10:30
AM ET
Time for a Stanford version of "Did you know?" headed into tonight's Discover Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech. The nuggets here are from ESPN Stats & Information and the school.

In 2006, Stanford was one of six FBS teams that won one or fewer games. Four seasons later, Jim Harbaugh has taken the Cardinal from losing 11 to winning 11. Here’s a look at how the other five losers of 2006 stacked up this season:

FIU: 0-12 to 6-6

Duke: 0-12 to 3-9

Stanford: 1-11 to 11-1

Temple: 1-11 to 8-4

Utah State : 1-11 to 4-8

Eastern Michigan: 1-11 to 2-10

* Stanford also became the ninth team to go from one win to 11-plus wins within a five-year span.


From 1 Win to 11+ Wins Within 5 Seasons

11-Win Year

Stanford, 2010

Rutgers, 2006

Iowa, 2002

Louisville, 2001

Tulane, 1998

Pittsburgh, 1976

UNLV, 1974

Troy State, 1968

New Mexico St., 1960



  • The Cardinal are 0-3 all-time against ACC teams in bowl games, though they did beat an ACC opponent earlier this year. The 68 points they scored on Wake Forest tied for the fourth-highest single-game scoring output in school history and marked the first time since 2002 the Cardinal had reached the 60-point mark.
  • While most people focus on the Stanford offense, the defense has been terrific recently. In the first seven games of the season, the Cardinal were giving up 24.3 points a game, 362.3 points a game, 147.6 rushing yards a game and had one shutout. In the last five games, Stanford is giving up an average of 8.8 points a game, 274.6 yards a game, 94.4 rushing yards per game and has two shutouts. Stanford has posted three shutouts in the same season since 1969.
  • Stanford has punted just 29 times this season, the fewest in FBS.
  • The Cardinal are 8-8 in 16 games decided by a touchdown or less under Jim Harbaugh.
  • Stanford last won a bowl game in 1996, when it defeated Michigan State 38-0 in the Sun Bowl. This is the team's first appearance in the Orange Bowl.
You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Stanford headed into the Discover Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech.

1. Balance on offense. What has made Andrew Luck so successful this season has been the run game behind Stepfan Taylor. Despite losing Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart to the NFL, Taylor ran for 1,023 yards this season. He was the first Stanford sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since 1978. Of Stanford’s 860 offensive plays this season, 58.6 percent have been rushing plays. That has allowed Stanford to control the clock in 11 of its 12 games this season. Establishing that run game allows the play-action pass to work so well for Luck. Stanford has scored a school-record 484 points this season. They have also had 32 rushing touchdowns and 28 passing touchdowns. That’s balance.

2. Mistake-free. Stanford has turned the ball over just four times in the past six games after having turnover problems earlier in the season. The Cardinal are also the least penalized team in the Pac-10 this season, drawing just 59 flags. You always hear coaches emphasize the need to limit the mistakes, and that obviously is no different in a game as big as this one, when nerves can make players jittery.

3. Harass Tyrod Taylor. Stanford has to shut down Virginia Tech's rushing attack in order to apply heavy pressure on Taylor. The Cardinal would love nothing more than to have Taylor beat them with his arm. What they have to be careful of is his always-dangerous running ability -- he ranks second on the team in rushing. Taylor is not one to make mistakes -- he has only thrown four interceptions this season. But constant pressure could make for a long night for the ACC Player of the Year. Chase Thomas has 7.5 sacks this season -- the most by a Stanford player since Jon Alston had 10 in 2004.
A matchup between two blue-collar teams awaits in the Discover Orange Bowl on Monday night from South Florida. Virginia Tech has been in BCS games before. Stanford not so much. But this has been a special season for the Cardinal. They have won a school-record 11 games and seven straight -- their longest winning streak since 1991. Two big questions surround the Cardinal heading into this game -- will coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck return next season? Much speculation has centered around Harbaugh, whose name has surfaced repeatedly in places other than The Farm.

WHO TO WATCH: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. It's not a surprise he is the player to watch. The Heisman finalist became the first sophomore in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards this season. He also set the single-season record for touchdown passes with 28. His two-year totals are incredible -- 5,626 yards and 41 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 24 career games. In his past seven games, Luck has completed 76 percent of his passes for 1,792 yards and 15 touchdowns. There is no question Virginia Tech is going to have to slow him down to have any shot at winning the game. Owen Marecic is another player to watch. He starts at fullback and inside linebacker. Talk about a throwback player. Marecic has four touchdowns and 45 tackles this season.

WHAT TO WATCH: Stanford run defense vs. Virginia Tech's triple-threat. The Hokies present problems with their depth at running back, even with David Wilson suspended for the first quarter for missing a team curfew. They have the No. 18 rushing offense in the country, averaging 208.9 yards per game behind Wilson, Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Williams has practiced sparingly this week but is expected to play. The first priority for Stanford will be to slow down the run. The Cardinal rank No. 24 in the nation in rushing defense. Watch for Chase Thomas, who leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss.

WHY WATCH: It’s not often folks on the East Coast get to watch Stanford play. This has been one of the best seasons in school history, and could be the finale for Harbaugh and Luck. But more than anything, Stanford is a fun team to watch because of its versatility on offense and its smashmouth defense. Play a fun game as you watch and count how many different offensive styles Stanford ends up running.

PREDICTION: Stanford 37, Virginia Tech 24. The Cardinal have the edge at quarterback and present a more balanced attack because of that. It’s going to be hard for Virginia Tech to keep pace with an offense that has averaged 40 points a game.

Discover Orange Bowl: 3 keys

January, 2, 2011
1/02/11
2:00
PM ET
Here are three keys for Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl against Stanford:

1. Stop Stanford’s running game. That should be the first priority. The Cardinal has the No. 17 rushing offense in the country with an average of 211 yards per game. Standford didn’t miss a beat in replacing Toby Gerhart. The Cardinal have rushed for 2,532 yards this season – the second-highest total in school history. Stepfan Taylor leads the team with 85.2 yards per game.

2. Win the quarterback battle. Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor and Stanford’s Andrew Luck will take center stage in this game, but eventually, one will upstage the other. One of the reasons Luck has been so successful this year is because he’s had great protection. Stanford is tied with Air Force at No. 1 in sacks allowed with five. Virginia Tech is No. 22 in the country in sacks with 2.54 per game. Both quarterbacks can run. Luck’s 438 rushing yards is the highest single-season total by a Stanford quarterback. Taylor is the second-leading rusher for the Hokies with 637 yards and five touchdowns.

3. Continue red zone and third down defensive success. Virginia Tech’s defense will determine the Hokies’ fate in this game, and it will increase its chances of coming out on the winning end if it continues to make the key stops. Virginia Tech is No. 21 in the country in third down defense efficiency, and No. 21 in red zone efficiency defense. The Hokies need to continue that trend against one of the best quarterbacks and offenses in the country.

Discover Orange Bowl preview

January, 2, 2011
1/02/11
1:00
PM ET
This is the big one for the ACC, a chance for Virginia Tech and the conference to make a statement on the national stage against the No. 4 team in the country. Virginia Tech enters this game with an all-time record of 1-26 against teams ranked in the top 5 of the AP poll, and the Hokies are 0-22 in such games away from Blacksburg, Va.

This is Stanford’s first Orange Bowl appearance and second BCS bowl appearance. At 11-1, Stanford is trying to finish a season with as few as one loss for the first time since 1940 (10-0). The Cardinal have already set a school record for most wins in a season. There’s plenty to play for in the Discover Orange Bowl. Here’s a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Stanford’s Andrew Luck is a projected first-round NFL draft pick, and Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor was the ACC’s Player of the Year after leading the Hokies on an 11-game winning streak. They’re major reasons why their teams are ranked among the top 20 in the country in scoring offense. Both have been invaluable to their respective teams, both have given defenses fits, and both are too good to miss.

WHAT TO WATCH: Virginia Tech’s secondary against Stanford’s receivers. Cornerbacks Jayron Hosley and Rashad Carmichael will have to win their matchups, especially when safeties Davon Morgan and Eddie Whitley line up closer to the box. Stanford receiver Doug Baldwin is one of Luck’s top targets, and Carmichael will be tasked with disrupting that connection. The Hokies’ pass efficiency defense is No. 8 in the country, while Stanford is No. 7 in passing efficiency.

WHY WATCH: These programs have gone on remarkable runs this season and come a long way. Stanford made a turnaround from 1-11 in 2006 to a school-record 11-1 this year. Virginia Tech made a turnaround from its 0-2 start to win 11 straight and become the first team to go undefeated in ACC play since Florida State in 2000. Both have an opportunity to finish the season with unprecedented success.

PREDICTION: Stanford 35, Virginia Tech 31. The difference in this game will be Stanford’s ability to run the ball. If there has been one weakness in the Hokies’ defense this year, it’s been at linebacker, where injuries and youth have provided some bumps. Virginia Tech’s run defense has been average, but when the Hokies dare to load the box, Luck can beat them with his arm.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Hulking Stanford offensive guard James McGillicuddy isn’t exactly easy to disguise, but that hasn’t stopped the staff from trying to line him up incognito.

McGillicuddy’s position is as nondescript as his jersey number. He’s a “kracken,” a.k.a a fullback-tight end-halfback hybrid. He can be found wearing jersey No. 74, No. 80, No. 41 or “whatever number he is for the week.”

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck leads a Cardinal team that uses 350 plays and has averaged more than 40 points per game this season.
“He’s pretty conspicuous on the field,” Stanford center Chase Beeler said. “He’s 305 pounds, 6-4, trying to hide himself out there. I don’t think it’s really fooling anyone.”

Maybe not. But Stanford’s offense has duped plenty of defenses this year with its ever-evolving creativity. The Cardinal might line up with one, two or three tight ends, seven or eight offensive linemen. Two backs or no back. They’ll use the Wildcat formation. They’ll run the option, the single wing. They’re a spread offense. A pistol offense. And they’re constantly trying to come up with the next scheme.

“We try to hit every decade since about the 1940s,” said associate head coach Greg Roman.

It’s an encyclopedia of schemes, shifts and formations, and it’s all on quarterback Andrew Luck's wristband -- all 350 plays.

“He’s the maestro,” said Roman.

Boy, does that offense sing.

Stanford enters Monday’s Discover Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech having scored a school-record 484 points in 12 games, and has averaged 40.3 points per game, which ranks second in the Pac-10 and eighth nationally. The variety in the playbook requires a lot from the athletes, but there’s no concern about information overload.

“Well, we’re Stanford guys,” receiver Ryan Whalen said with a grin. “We’re supposed to be smart, right?”

This offense, which once this season featured as many as 27 players on the first team, doesn’t leave them much choice but to study.

“We do things that have never been done before in college football,” said senior receiver Doug Baldwin. “Maybe in Little League, somewhere down the road, but we get matchups, create matchups that enable us to have a positive outcome. We like to win the numbers games. It’s all about angles and math and outnumbering the defense.”

All but one time this year, Stanford has won the numbers game.

The Cardinal has won a school-record 11 games and eight conference games. Ten of those wins have come by an average of 26.4 points, and the Cardinal is averaging 24.75 first downs per game, which ranks ninth nationally.

So how does a defense clear across the country begin to prepare for such an unpredictable offense? By countering with an equally unpredictable defense, of course.

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said the Hokies will be “loose” in their game-calling.

“We've got the ability to do a lot of blitzes and do a lot of different things and show a lot of different looks,” he said, “and I think they've got to prepare for that, as well.”

Not even Stanford’s players know what to expect each week.

“It's always interesting coming into the Monday meeting and getting the install for this week or for the weeks during the season to see what the coaches have come up with for us for whatever game plan it is,” Luck said. “The coaches do a great job of mixing things up and putting us in a good position to succeed, and we buy into their philosophy and try to go and execute to our advantage.”

Regardless of what jersey number they’re wearing.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Virginia Tech's blue-collar, lunch-pail reputation is not "geographically limited," according to Stanford associate head coach Greg Roman.

In fact, when Roman was coaching in the NFL and evaluating an offensive player, he would make sure to watch film of that prospect against Virginia Tech's defense if it was available.

"I made sure I did, because I could see them on the offensive line, I could see them have to deal with quickness, toughness, relentlessness," said Roman, who had stints with the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens before arriving at Stanford in 2009. "As a tight end, I could see him having to deal with guys trying to beat him up at the line of scrimmage and having to match up with him in coverage. At quarterback I could see him evaluate him against all the different coverage looks they need to see with the variety that they'll see, which is somewhat NFL like, and as a wide receiver you could see him against defensive backs that are going to come up and try to lay you out. So I think their reputation is long and well deserved, and it travels everywhere."

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck said it's "quite possibly the best defense" the Cardinal will face all year.

"I haven't been around football for too long, I guess, not like coach Roman," Luck said. "But from my short history, growing up and watching Virginia Tech, you always knew they were going to be a tough football team that flew around with the football. We know we're definitely going to have our hands full, and I think it's a great reputation anywhere in the United States."

Watching them on film, it's obvious why; you'd better pack your "A" game when you play Virginia Tech.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was reluctant to travel all the way from Blacksburg, Va., to Delray Beach, Fla., to woo a recruit until one former player persuaded Beamer to put in the effort to get to know a kid named Jayron Hosley out of Atlantic High School.

Former cornerback Brandon Flowers, also a graduate of Atlantic High, didn’t have to say much -- only that Hosley was just like him.

“He told them, ‘he might even be better than me,’” Hosley said with a smile. “That’s a big compliment coming from Brandon, being a great corner that he was coming out of Tech. That was big.”

[+] EnlargeJayron Hosley
AP Photo/Michael DwyerSophomore cornerback Jayron Hosley grabbed eight interceptions this season.
Hosley is only a sophomore, but if this season has been any indication of what lies ahead, Beamer might want to send Flowers a little thank-you note. Hosley enters the Discover Orange Bowl against Stanford tied for the national lead in interceptions with eight and leads the country in interceptions per game with .67. He was a first-team All-America selection by the Walter Camp Foundation, and will be integral to the Hokies’ chances of an upset over Stanford, which features a sure-fire first-round NFL draft pick in quarterback Andrew Luck (if he comes out).

“J-Hosley, man, he definitely brings a lot to the table,” said cornerback Rashad Carmichael. “He’s a playmaker -- I think one of the most pure corners I’ve ever seen. When he first came on campus, I was like, 'this guy’s a corner. That’s what he do.'”

Hosley, who grew up about 30 minutes from Sun Life Stadium, said he will have 15 or 20 family members in the stands, “depending on how many tickets” he can get.

“My family is definitely looking forward to it,” Hosley said. “They want me to go out there and put on a show and do what I’ve been doing all season. They want to see me grow even more.”

So does secondary coach Torrian Gray, who’s had to “push and nudge” Hosley to be a little more aggressive. Gray said Hosley had the ability to play as a true freshman last year, but lacked a sense of urgency to be a starter.

“He’s a very quiet, laid-back kid,” Gray said, “almost too laid-back for my personality because I want you to be in it, communicate, talking, and that’s not how Jayron is. That’s the reason for his progression being kind of slow, but he’s a smart football player. Once he gets it, he’s got it.”

This year, Hosley got it -- just ask NC State.

Hosley had six tackles, four pass breakups and three interceptions against quarterback Russell Wilson, one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC. He clinched the win against the Wolfpack with a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown. He also had a critical fourth-quarter interception he returned 32 yards in the win at Miami, and two interceptions against North Carolina.

“I’ve always said when he first got here as a true freshman he has an ‘it factor,’ and you can’t teach it, whatever it is,” Gray said. “His ‘it’ is to be able to make interceptions, make plays on the ball and finish plays. For him to have some of the games he’s had, kept us in games or won some games for us, I can say that kind of took me by surprise for him to come on this quickly.”

Hosley has also been an electric returner, and brought a punt back 80 yards for a touchdown in the win over Central Michigan. He has returned 19 punts this year for 239 yards (12.6-yard average) and a touchdown. He has 37 tackles this year, including one for loss, and seven pass breakups.

“I’m glad we came and got him,” Beamer said. “He’s just an exceptional player. He’s kind of got it.”

Flowers had ‘it’ too.

Blocking key for Hokies' backs

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
11:00
AM ET
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When it comes to offensive success against Stanford's defense, Virginia Tech's running backs are prepared to do more than just run.

They want to give ACC Player of the Year Tyrod Taylor enough time to make something happen.

“When I watch film, I don’t really pay attention to [the whole defense]," said Hokies' running back Ryan Williams. "I treat every defense the same and my job really -- when I watch film -- is to protect Tyrod [Taylor] when it comes to blitzes and who I pick up and [which players that will be]. That’s the biggest thing, because I run the ball and every defense is going to play you differently depending on how you run the ball and things of that sort. But they are going to do their job in terms of defending the run, but my job is protect Tyrod and the running comes natural. That is just me using my vision, picking the holes and seeing where I can go.”

Running back Darren Evans compared Stanford's defense to Boise State's in that it is fundamentally sound, and praised the linebackers' ability to get to the ball.

“It can be tricky in the passing game, identifying the fronts," Evans said. "I might have to stay in more to protect Tyrod [Taylor] so he can have more time to throw."
ESPN's Stats & Info crew took a look at Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor's numbers when passing outside the pocket. Taylor has completed half of his passes this season when outside the pocket, but those completions have gone for big yards.

Skov 'sure coach will be back'

December, 30, 2010
12/30/10
9:16
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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As if Stanford didn't have enough to worry about this week with a BCS bowl against Virginia Tech looming, the rumors surrounding coach Jim Harbaugh continue to fly.

No matter.

Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said the Cardinal isn't paying any attention to them.

“We all came here for our own reasons," he said. "We are here at this bowl playing for each other. We invested too much to let something like that distract us. I'm sure coach will be back next season."
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Stanford defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spent 24 seasons in the NFL before taking over the Cardinal’s defense. Prior to that, he hadn’t coached at the collegiate level since 1983, when he was a graduate assistant at North Carolina.

It hasn’t taken him long to get reacquainted.

Stanford enters the Discover Orange Bowl with one of the nation’s top defenses, but Fangio knows one of the toughest tests lies ahead in trying to contain mobile Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

“When you watch him play, he's like the point guard of a great basketball team; the guy just makes plays many different ways,” Fangio said. “Our biggest challenge is going to be to tackle him in open spaces because you can see that's where a lot of his stuff comes from, and their team feeds off of that. So he will be hard to contain, as their running backs are, also. We'll have our work cut out for us. He's similar to the guy at Oregon and I think Oregon State that we played in the Pac-10.”

Stanford ranks in the top three in the Pac-10 and nationally in five defensive categories, and has allowed just 44 points in its final five regular season games. That’s the fewest points allowed by a Stanford defense in a five-game stretch since the 1971 season. Stanford has allowed just six touchdowns in its last five games, two of which came in the fourth quarter against Cal after the Cardinal surged to a 45-0 lead.

It’s an impressive turnaround, considering Stanford finished eighth in the conference inscoring defense (26.5) and ninth in the Pac-10 in total defense a year ago.

“You don't make the improvement that they have from one year to the next defensively unless something is going on there in terms of coaching and playing,” said Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. “And to go from a bottom-tier in total defense to the top in their conference and to be 11th in the country in scoring defense, that doesn't just happen by accident. I think it goes back to their defensive personnel and obviously their defensive coaches.”

On a team known for its blue-collar defenses, Virginia Tech’s offense has stolen the spotlight this year. Taylor, along with a tailback rotation that includes three NFL prospects in Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson, have been the difference in the Hokies’ 11-game winning streak.

“Virginia Tech’s offense, along with the run game, they thrive off of what he’s capable of doing and the intangibles he has as a quarterback,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov. “Obviously you have some awareness of where he is in the pocket and try and keep him in the pocket, but we’re definitely pressuring the same way we have all year. We’re not going to back down. We’re going to consistently bring pressure and attack their offensive scheme.”

The Cardinal has watched plenty of film – at least 10 games – of Virginia Tech’s offense to try and figure out the best way to stop Taylor.

“There’s a lot of different strategies on how to attack him, especially watching all the different teams,” said defensive end Brian Bulcke. “Some teams try to cage him, some try to slow rush him, some teams go after him. When it comes down to it, we’re just going to do what we’ve done all season.”

So far, it’s worked pretty well.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Virginia Tech has a long list of impressive accomplishments under coach Frank Beamer, but beating top five teams is not one of them.

The Hokies will have another shot at that when they face No. 4 Stanford in the Discover Orange Bowl.

This is Virginia Tech’s third appearance here in the past four years, and 18th straight bowl appearance, but the Hokies are 1-26 all-time against teams ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll.

“No. 1 you probably go back and look at the top five teams we’ve played, and were we as good as they were at the time?” Beamer said. “I know when I first came to Virginia Tech it seemed like we were playing a lot of top five teams, and we weren’t as good as they were. I think that’s one part of it, but there’s no question we need to be more successful. ... There’s no question.

“I think it’s important to this program at this time to be able to say, ‘Ok, we can win a game against a top five team,” Beamer said. “I told them this morning, that’s going to be work, and a great preparation. Stanford is legit.”

Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said “people get caught up” in the Hokies’ record against elite competition, but that it’s “very, very important” they start to reverse that trend.

"But I think when you look at that, we were in a position to win those games,” Stinespring said. “It's not like we've gone into those games and not stood face to face and not had opportunities to win them. The fact that we haven't is something that is the albatross right now in terms of trying to shake it off a little bit.

“But we need to go out there and win this one. We need to win this one because it's a great bowl, a great match-up, a great competition, but that record, that's something that obviously people want to focus on and concentrate on, but we understand what we are in terms of our program. That record is just something that is part of it that we've got to try to go out and try to help improve it here in a couple days. It will be difficult.”

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