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Orange Bowl 2011, Stanford vs. Virginia Tech: Rule of Tree Gives Us Some Background

With the 2011 Orange Bowl, featuring Stanford and Virginia Tech, a month away, I find it to be helpful to speak with individual bloggers for each team to get an idea what each side brings to the table. Late yesterday we spoke with SB Nation’s Virginia Tech blog, Gobbler Country. Today we speak with SB Nation’s new Stanford blog, Rule of Tree. In this first Q&A they provide us with some basic background on the season that was for the Stanford Cardinal.

SBNBA: What were expectations for your team coming into the 2010 season? Were you expecting a BCS bowl or have you been a bit surprised by your team’s performance this season?

RoT: Expectations following last year’s Sun Bowl appearance were somewhat tempered with the loss of Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart to the NFL. Even with the return of one of the most experienced offensive lines in the Pac-10, it wasn’t clear who would fill Toby’s shoes. The even bigger question mark was the defense, which ranked ninth in the conference in 2009. Stanford fans had an idea that Andrew Luck was special—even Heisman-worthy—before the season, but somehow he’s managed to exceed those lofty expectations. I couldn’t envision Stanford in a BCS bowl at the beginning of the year, and I would’ve considered a 9-3 record with a trip to the Alamo Bowl or Holiday Bowl a huge success. That seems strange to say now, considering how disappointed Stanford fans would’ve been had the Cardinal fallen out of the top four of the BCS standings and been denied a BCS bid.

SBNBA: What have been your best wins and worst losses? It can be one win and one loss, or more of them depending on how you’ve felt about the season.

RoT: Without a doubt, the most satisfying win of the season was the 48-14 demolition of Cal in Big Game. Stanford returned the Axe to its rightful home with the most lopsided win in the series in 80 years. Luck also provided the signature play of the season when he leveled Cal’s Sean Cattouse on a 58-yard run. It was a good day to be a Stanford fan. There were other great wins, of course. In terms of drama, no game rivaled the 37-35 win against USC, when Luck orchestrated a last-minute drive to set up Nate Whitaker’s game-winning field goal. The Cardinal’s comeback win at Arizona State, where Stanford has traditionally struggled, and the let-there-be-no-doubt shutout of Oregon State in the regular season finale also come to mind. The Cardinal’s worst loss was its only loss, a 52-31 setback at Oregon. Stanford surged to a 21-3 lead, only to watch the Ducks turn the tide with a successful onside kick and pour it on in the second half. I think LaMichael James rushed for 400 yards in that game.

SBNBA: In a more general sense, what has worked well for you this season and what has worked poorly? This isn’t a scouting report at this point but more just your general thoughts on 2010, so no need to get crazy specific at this point.

RoT: With Luck taking a leading role and Stepfan Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson providing steady production at running back, the offense hasn’t skipped a beat in 2010. In fact, it’s better. The real surprise for Stanford, and a huge reason why the Cardinal is in the Orange Bowl, is the improved defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio installed a 3-4 scheme and the results have been nothing short of astonishing. Stanford has posted three shutouts in a season for the first time since 1969 and, for the first time in a long time, has a defense that rivals its offense.