Andrew Luck threw four touchdown passes, including three to Coby Fleener, and the Stanford football team completed its dream season with a convincing 40-12 victory over No. 12 Virginia Tech in Monday night's Orange Bowl.
"We came out in the second half and established a rhythm," Luck said. "We were making some uncommon mistakes in the first half. We just went back to blocking, throwing, catching, and it worked out for us."
Fleener caught six passes for a career-high 173 yards, including TDs of 41, 58 and 38 yards as Stanford broke the game wide open with 27 unanswered points in the second half. Fleener's yardage total and TD receptions are Stanford bowl game records.
"Andrew (Luck) threw the ball perfectly, as he always does," said Fleener.
Stepfan Taylor led all rushers with 114 yards on 13 carries (third best in Stanford bowl history) while Jeremy Stewart had 99 yards in five carries, including a 60-yard touchdown run that was Stanford's second-longest of the season and the longest bowl run in school history. Two-way player Owen Marecic also scored for the Cardinal.
"I'm extremely excited," Luck said. "Couldn't be happier for the Stanford community."
Stanford lived up to its billing as one of the top offensive teams in the nation, compiling 534 yards of total offense, 341 in the second half. The Cardinal defense limited the Hokies' potent offense to 288 yards, including sacking QB Tyrod Taylor eight times. Taylor threw for 222 yards and a touchdown.
Shayne Skov was credited with 12 tackles and 2 1/2 quarterback sacks, while Delano Howell had two sacks, Chase Thomas had 1 1/2 and Marecic and Thomas Keiser each had one. Howell added a key interception that led to a two-play, 97-yard touchdown drive for Stanford that turned things around in the second half.
Stanford outrushed Virginia Tech, 247-66, and converted 6 of 10 third-down plays. The Hokies did not have an answer for Luck, the passing game or the Stanford rushing attack.
If this was the final game at Stanford for Luck and coach Jim Harbaugh, they are leaving in style. The Orange Bowl victory caps a complete turnaround from the 1-11 team that Harbaugh inherited when he arrived on campus four years ago.
Stanford won its first bowl win in 14 seasons, as the Cardinal entered 0-3 in postseason games since topping Michigan State, 38-0, under Tyrone Willingham, in the 1996 Sun Bowl.
John Elway and Jim Plunkett, who were overall No. 1 picks in the NFL draft and who each went on to win at least one Super Bowl, were in attendance.
Luck, named the Orange Bowl MVP, could join the two former Stanford quarterback legends as the No. 1 pick in the draft if he chooses to past up two more years of eligibility.
"I don't want to make an impulsive decision," Luck said. "I'll enjoy this as long as I can. I know the deadline is coming up, I'll sit down with my parents, weigh the pros and cons and go from there."
Harbaugh is expected to be courted by NFL teams and perhaps alma mater Michigan after leading the Cardinal to a school-record win total.
"I just talk about the job that I have and none others, and that's the way I've always handled it in the past, and it's worked well," Harbaugh said Sunday in his final media availability before the game. "The way I handle it now and in the future; just focus and concentrate on the task at hand."
Luck gave a performance reminiscent of Elway, the former Stanford quarterback who is expected to become the Denver Broncos' chief football executive this week. He served as an honorary captain.
Plunkett led Stanford to a Rose Bowl victory in 1970.
The Cardinal likely will end the season ranked in the top 5 for the first time since the unbeaten 1940 team finished No. 2.
Stanford threw a completion for a bizarre safety and blew two extra points, but overcame those mistakes with six plays gaining more than 30 yards.
Luck threw for a safety that cut Stanford's lead to 7-2. His pass was batted backward by Antoine Hopkins to 303-pound offensive tackle Derek Hall, who caught the ball rather than knocking it down and was tackled in the end zone.
"Football can be a very funny game," Luck said. "No point in getting emotionally hijacked over it."
Stewart, who was projected as the starting halfback before getting hurt, came into the game with 13 carries for 38 yards before running through a big hole on the left side of the line and going untouched into the end zone for his second touchdown of the season.
The run came one play after Luck got the Cardinal on the move with a nifty 21-yard pass on third down to Doug Baldwin.
"Andrew Luck is the straw that stirs the drink around here," Harbaugh said.
Stanford came into the game having punted only 29 times, the fewest in major college football. The Cardinal punted after their first drive Monday night, and should have after the second as well.
Instead they tried a fake on 4th-and-4 at the Virginia Tech 45, with Chike Amajoyi getting snuffed for no gain. But it didn't hurt Stanford much; the Hokies went three-and-out on their ensuing possession.
"They're really good, and we helped them be good," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. "There were a couple of long plays against our defense, and then the game got away from us. The thing kind of snowballed."
(AP contributed to this report)
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