Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Andrew Luck, Jim Harbaugh Lead Stanford to Blowout Victory in Orange Bowl

MIAMI -- This was better than any goodbye speech they could give.

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck, expected to leave for bigger and brighter football pastures, capped the most successful season in school history by orchestrating a 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl Monday night.

Harbaugh, in his fourth season at Stanford, is expected to be lured away immediately either by the NFL or by the University of Michigan, his alma mater. Luck, a redshirt sophomore, is expected to announce his intention to leave school for the NFL Draft, where he will likely be the No. 1 pick..

For now, they were hand-in-hand in convincing a national television audience and the 65,453 in attendance that Stanford belongs among the nation's elite football programs.

Stanford (12-1) set a school record for most victories in season, just four years after finishing 1-11, the season before Harbaugh arrived.

Luck, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, carved up the Virginia Tech defense like he was carving up a New Year's turkey, throwing four touchdown passes, including three to tight end Coby Fleener.

Although Stanford led by just a point at halftime, it thoroughly dominated the final two periods, ending any late-night suspense. In the second half, Luck completed nine of 10 passes for 201 yards and all three touchdowns to Fleener.

Stanford needed just two plays to drive 97 yards following an interception by Delano Howell midway through the third quarter. A 56-yard run by Stepfan Taylor and a 41-yard TD pass from Luck to Fleener made it 26-12.

Senior Owen Marecic, Stanford's two-way wonder, factored on both sides of the ball. As a linebacker, he had a big sack in the first half to stop one drive, then he opened the second half as a fullback when he scored on a one-yard plunge for the 19-12 lead.

Stanford kicker Nate Whitaker missed two extra points, getting one blocked in the first half, then another going right in the third period after Marecic's score.

Stanford led, 13-12, at intermission, mostly riding the big plays by little-used running back Jeremy Stewart, who carried three times for 90 yards. Stewart, who carried only 13 times this season, raced 60 yards for the first score in the game, busting through the left side and finding nothing but end zone in front of him.

His score came shortly after Stanford's first real gamble failed midway through the first period. The Cardinals faked a punt but faked nobody, losing a yard on a fourth-and-three. The Hokies, though, did nothing but punt the ball right back after three plays went nowhere.

Stanford, the school that prides itself on having true student-athletes, didn't look so smart late in the first period with back-to-back mental blunders.

Kick returner Drew Terrell fielded a Virginia Tech punt on the two yard line -- a cardinal sin in the punt-return business -- and was tackled at the five. It led directly to a desperate pass from the end zone that was batted back by Tech's Antoine Hopkins, into the waiting arms of offensive lineman Derek Hall who caught the ball -- instead of batting it down -- and fell down in the end zone for a safety, giving Tech its first two points.

Stanford took a 14-9 lead midway in the second quarter on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Luck to wide receiver Zach Ertz. Tech had taken a 9-7 lead earlier in the period on a 11-yard TD pass from Tyrod Taylor to running back David Wilson, who was forced to miss the first period after a curfew violation.


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