Third Quarter Blog

"On that drive, I felt as if I were watching something truly special, and I knew as soon as Fleener hauled it in that Stanford had clinched the Orange Bowl. I also think I just saw a level of excellence I'll be lucky see again from my school's team in my lifetime. Simply beautiful."

Halftime: Eight hundred high school dancers, enough pyrotechnics for a state militia and a PA guy fresh off the "Jersey Shore" cast don't change one essential truth: if you're a half-octave and a half-beat off, your music is going to stink. Sorry Goo Goo Dolls, and I like a lot of your older stuff, but I've seen you twice in person now, and the difference between live and recorded is stark. Hopefully a solid second half will get that taste out of our mouths.

Some news, notes and trivia from our friends at the Orange Bowl:

  • Stewart's 60-yard touchdown run is the longest in Stanford bowl history. VT's safety was its first in its bowl history.
  • The last six teams to lead at the half at the Orange Bowl went on to win.
  • The Pac-10 is 3-0 in the Orange Bowl, though this is the first Pac-10 – ACC matchup. The ACC is 2-10 all-time in BCS bowls.
  • Stanford allowed only its sixth sack of the season in the first half, and hasn't allowed more than one sack in a game since Big Game 2008. Not coincidentally, Andrew Luck didn't become Stanford's starting quarterback until 2009.
  • Virginia Tech is wearing orange helmets, for the first time in school history, in honor of the game.
  • David Wilson, who played the part of Terrell Owens on VT's only touchdown of the day, was suspended for the first quarter after missing curfew.
  • VT All-American Jayron Hosley had his school-record ninth interception of the season. Makes sense, as he ran Whalen's route better than Ryan did.

And some stats in a nutshell – Stanford has 198 yards to VT's 179. Stanford is 3-of-7 on third downs, VT 2-of-7. VT has 16 minutes of possession to Stanford's 14. Pretty even all around. The only exceptions are that Stanford has two turnovers (the Luck pick and the Stewart fumble, albeit irrelevant, to end the half) to VT's zero, and VT is 8-of-16 passing, while Stanford is 9-of-13. I think the passing accuracy discrepancy is more likely to continue in the second half than the turnover gap, so I think Stanford does come out on top here, but it's been a really even thirty minutes thus far.

10:37pm: A handoff and a scramble net VT five yards, and Taylor audibles on third and five. It's a good call, as there's a 25-yard gap between Richard Sherman, who slipped, and Taylor Skauffel, who was slow to get over from his high safety spot, but Tyrod Taylor missed a wide-open man on what could have been a dangerous play. Overall then, the teams look rather even thus far, but I think Stanford's edge at the QB position is beginning to show. VT punts.

10:39pm: Luck hits Whalen on a six-yard slant, but throws it a beat in front, bringing Whalen off his feet for what could have otherwise been a first down. On second and four, the last guy gets Stephan Taylor, again on power left I believe, but not after he moves the sticks. (Aside: we won't, but should we go for two to make it a two-possession game if we score a TD here? The question simplifies to whether we think our offense has better odds of converting a two-point conversion or our D has better odds stopping one, and personally I like the offense there.) Luck throws behind his man on a short crossing route and is very lucky not to be pick-sixed, but then Andrew responds with three straight completions to move the Card down to the one. The last two completions were both on roll outs right to receivers out of the backfield. First was Coby Fleener hurdling a defender ala Sam McGuffie in a famous YouTube clip, and then it was Ryan Whalen diving to the one. Taylor gets stonewalled on first down, as does Marecic on the FB quick dive on second down that I think we're 100% on this season in short yardage situations. Hey, that's our play – you can't stop that! Sure enough, on third down, we run the exact same dive and Marecic is into the end zone. I would have gone for two here for the reasons I mentioned earlier, plus VT's D has been on the field for 10 plays straight and I like Luck's chances rolling out to thread the needle to someone. The game theory gods must hear me as Nate Whitaker picks a bad time to push an extra point wide right, and what should be an eight-point lead (or, heck, 11, minus the safety and blocked PAT) is instead seven. Stanford leads 19-12, one of those theoretically possible scores I always need come Super Bowl squares season, but never actually happens. Until now, of course. 8:47 left third quarter. If I'm our defensive coordinator, I keep doing what I've been doing – load up the box enough to make Taylor beat us with his arm.

10:48pm: 8:40 third quarter, 19-12 Stanford. The VT press in the box with me think they need a score here, otherwise we come back with a touchdown and it's over. Sheesh, they're even more depressed than us Stanford fans, but they look prescient on first down, as Howell catches Taylor for 13 on a great blitz call that Taylor didn't expect. On second down, though, our four-man rush gets nowhere and our linebackers – Chase Thomas and Marecic in particular – do not drop deep enough. Danny Coale gains 42 as Thomas appeared to go for the interception and miss, instead of trying to backpedal and stay with his man. Maybe the safety's fault though, don't know the coverage. A triple option look gets five, and then Taylor does exactly what I've suspected he might if we made him throw it down the field – toss a gift ten yards ahead of his receiver that Delano Howell practically fair catches at the two. So great change in field position for the Hokies, but Stanford still has the chance to go 98 yards and step on VT's throat right now. I'd come out passing, as we played it safe with two runs up the middle that got nowhere our last time we were backed up deep, and they led to a safety.

10:54pm: We shift three from right to left, and then one back right. All the shifting confuses VT and Stepfan Taylor is only tackled because he's caught from behind at the VT 45. No one touched him until the safety chased him down and dove after 50 yards to save a touchdown. Doesn't matter, as the very next play, Stanford play actions over the top to Coby Fleener for a mind-numbingly open touchdown. A Virginia Tech defensive holding, declined, only adds insult to injury. This time we hit the extra point and it's 26-12 with 5:43 left. I think the quick tempo confused VT, as someone obviously missed their responsibility and let Fleener streak downfield handwavingly open.

Sure, I think our quarterback is a stud, but otherwise our teams are pretty even right now. (That is obviously a huge complement to Stanford, because since when did we have equal talent to Virginia Tech's?) To me though, it is just men among boys in terms of the playcalling: the presnap shifting that sprung the fifty-yard run, and then the hurry-up off the big play that helped the VT defense lose Fleener was just a sequence of beauty. Frank Beamer's one of the best-reputed coaches in the country, and just like this staff has to so many rivals, they are making him look silly. On that drive, I felt as if I were watching something truly special, and I knew as soon as Fleener hauled it in that Stanford had clinched the Orange Bowl. I also think I just saw a level of excellence I'll be lucky see again from my school's team in my lifetime. Simply beautiful.

11:02pm: Virginia Tech is marching again, now to their 41 with 3:30 left in the third, down 26-12, but as long as we bend and don't break, I think we're going to be okay. If they're going to score, make Taylor execute all the way down the field, and make them take six minutes to do it. Scott Shafer's bend-but-don't-break defense is back, baby. Sure enough, on third and three, Stanford neither bent nor broke, as Skov dove in to swat away a would-be first down on a hitch route. Virginia Tech was on its 42 with a fourth and three, go for it, but the Hokies give up and punt, and now Stanford can run more clock (and truly ice this game with one final score) with 2:34 left in the third. Stanford Athletics may never get the respect they deserve, but tonight, we're not giving fans much of a choice but to drool. Two men's decisions could go a long way in making this not one special year but the start of a dynasty, but until then, I am going to thoroughly enjoy the last 17:34 of this one. Stanford 26, VT 12, hope the team isn't as cocky as I am, but I am feeling this!

11:07pm: We go nowhere on a run, fine, but don't snap the next ball until there are two seconds left on the clock, beautiful. Second down, we're going left (where else) for eight yards, and on third and two, Andrew Luck is unreal and rolls right to find Fleener on a checkdown for another first down. Keep running left, and then that opens the field for us to roll right, to Luck's stronger side. Be aware of the clock with a two-score lead, and let it run out at the end of the third when we don't need another snap, as we just did. God, I love the way this staff coaches in-game. 26-12 after three quarters, almost to the finish line here.

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