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Orange Bowl 2011, Stanford vs. Virginia Tech Preview: Hokies Defense vs. Cardinal Offense

We continue our series of previews of the 2011 Orange Bowl with a discussion of the most important players on the Virginia Tech Hokies defense and the most important players on the Stanford Cardinal offense. Thanks again to Gobbler Country and Rule of Tree for their contributions as we prepare for what should be a fun Orange Bowl contest.

SBNBA: Who are the three most important players on defense for you in this game and why (if you feel the need to go longer or discuss a unit as whole such as your corners, OLBs, etc. you can do that as well)?

Gobbler Country: Steven Friday and Chris Drager, our two starting defensive ends, need to get pressure on Andrew Luck when the Hokies rush four. The Cardinal are second in the country in sacks allowed with five, but when you factor in sacks per drop back they probably lead the country by a wide margin. However, two of the eight sacks Boise State has allowed this year came against the Hokies, so they’ve shown they’re able to get to hard-to-get quarterbacks. They’ll find a way if they have to bring five, six or seven guys, but it would really help the Hokies out of Friday and Drager and get pressure on their own. Friday leads the team with 8.5 and while Drager only has two sacks this year, he’s probably been our most consistent pass rusher.

Rashad Carmichael battled an ankle injury late in the season, but returned in the second half against Florida State. His presence was cited by media members as being a calming influence on the rest of the defense despite his actual effect on the game being limited. The Hokie defense was able to lock down the FSU offense, even without two of its starting linebackers. The reason is because Carmichael’s mere presence helps the rest of the team play more in control. He’ll need to have a big game and contribute more than just a calming influence against Stanford’s passing and rushing attack. As the boundary corner, Carmichael will factor in on the Hokies’ rush defense.

Finally, rover Davon Morgan needs to have a big game in the middle of the secondary. He had four interceptions in Tech’s final five games and is really making a mark on his senior season. Like Carmichael, the Hokies need him to be around the ball a lot in both pass coverage and against the run.

SBNBA: Who are the three most important players on offense for you in this game and why (if you feel the need to go longer or discuss a unit as whole such as your o-line, WRs, etc. you can do that as well)?

Rule of Tree: Andrew Luck: This doesn’t require much explanation. In what could be the final game of his collegiate career, Luck will face one of his stiffest tests of the season. The Hokies rank eighth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and have more interceptions (22) than all but one FBS school. Luck will need to be his typical extraordinary self on the big stage.

Stepfan Taylor: Taylor’s workload and production waned in the second half of the season as freshman Anthony Wilkerson took a more prominent role in the Stanford backfield. After stringing together five consecutive 100-yard games in the middle of the season, Taylor closed the year with only one 100-yard effort in the Cardinal’s last four games. He’ll be well rested for the Hokies.

Doug Baldwin: There’s no guarantee that Chris Owusu, who missed the final three games of the regular season with an undisclosed injury, will be ready to go on Jan. 3. That means Doug Baldwin, who caught two touchdown passes in the season opener and emerged as Stanford’s most consistent receiver throughout the season, will need to step up once more.