We continue our series of previews of the 2011 Orange Bowl with a discussion of the primary strengths and weaknesses of the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Stanford Cardinal. We’ll get into more specific scouting reports next week, but for now we’ll continue with a broader look at each team. Thanks again to Gobbler Country and Rule of Tree for their contributions as we prepare for what should be a fun Orange Bowl contest.
Virginia Tech’s biggest strength is its quarterback, Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is the unquestioned leader of the team has the intangibles you want in addition to what he brings on the field. His ability to make good things happen when plays break down, either with his arm or legs, is what makes him so dangerous.
On defense, the Hokies’ secondary has led the way. The Hokies were second in the country in interceptions with 22 and had an opponents’ passer rating of 105.7, which was seventh. Tech came into the year with three experienced players in the secondary and it was the sophomore who wound up tying for the national lead with eight picks.
Tech’s weakness throughout the season was coming out flat. Many of the games the Hokies played served as a microcosm for their season. They trailed or were tied after the first quarter in nine of their 13 games so far, but were 8-1 in those games. It seemed like until the FSU game it always took the Hokies a quarter to hit their stride. They can’t afford to do that against Stanford.
The Hokies’ rush defense wasn’t what we’re used to this year. Tech was ninth in the ACC in yards per carry allowed in conference play at 4.7. However, it saved its best game against the run for last when it gave up 1.9 yards per carry against an injury-depleted FSU backfield. FSU only had 53 rushing yards in that game, but had three rushing touchdown. The run defense has taken a hit this year because Tech has played a lot of nickel this year, leaving only two linebackers to help against the rush.
Stanford’s biggest strengths stem from its dominant offensive line, which has paved the way for one of the most balanced attacks in the nation and the most prolific offense in Stanford history. All-America center Chase Beeler’s unit has helped running backs Stepfan Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson combine for Toby Gerhart-like totals and kept opposing defenses from so much as laying a finger on quarterback Andrew Luck. The Heisman runner-up would probably put up decent numbers behind the Houston Texans’ 2002 offensive line, but his record-breaking numbers this season are, at least in part, a product of an offensive line that allowed only five sacks. Stanford’s ability and experience up front allows it to dominate the opposition with the pass or the run, and most often both.
The Cardinal’s biggest weakness is probably its ability to defend a speedy offense. While the much-improved defense registered three shutouts during the regular season, it struggled to slow Oregon’s LaMichael James and Darron Thomas—who didn’t?—in the Cardinal’s only loss. The Cardinal was also burned repeatedly by USC quarterback Matt Barkley and speedy wide receiver Robert Woods, who had 224 yards and three touchdowns in Stanford’s 37-35 win. With the exception of the Oregon game, Stanford’s run defense has been solid, if a bit untested. With the way the Cardinal has put up points, opposing teams have regularly been forced to abandon the running game by halftime.