Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 31, 2010

Stanford hoping to bowl over Virginia Tech

Defense effort will be crucial in matchup of explosive offenses

by Rick Eymer

Sione Fua only watched the Orange Bowl when Florida State was a participant. He was more of a Rose Bowl fan growing up.

Fua might not get the chance to watch the Pasadena event this year. He'll be busy preparing for Stanford's appearance against Virginia Tech in Miami on Monday night (5:30 p.m., ESPN).

"We'll enjoy the activities the Bowl committee has for us but this is a business trip," said Fua, who grew up in Encino. "It will be nice to be on the beach, though."

Fua, Stanford's senior nose tackle, will be charged with slowing down the potent Hokies' offense and their dual threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who has completed over 60 percent of his passes for 2,521 yards and 23 touchdowns while also rushing for 637 yards, an average of 49 per game.

"It's actually better to have someone who sits back in the pocket," Fua said. "He's very explosive. He could take a broken play and take it for a touchdown. He's a really athletic guy, and can throw the ball well. But really, he's like no one like we've played so far with that much explosiveness. Tyrod just makes more plays with his feet."

Of course, Virginia Tech (11-2) will also have its hands full with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, also a dual threat with 3,051 passing yards (with a 70 percent connection rate) and 28 touchdowns (to 10 different receivers), and another 438 rushing yards and three scores.

"He has the ability, with the game on the line, to perform at an even higher level," Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He has a blend of confidence and focus that makes for a nice combination. He can be cold-blooded, calm and even more focused all at the same time. It still amazes. It seems familiar and it's all together new."

Luck has helped fifth-ranked Stanford (11-1) to one of its finest seasons ever and would love to cement that legacy with a win over the Hokies, meeting Stanford for the first time on a football field.

Luck studies the game in as much detail as a coach and has several resources available. His father, Oliver Luck, was an NFL quarterback and Harbaugh spent 15 years as a quarterback in the NFL.

At the same time he maintains a special relationship with Tavita Pritchard, who will always be remembered for engineering Stanford's stunning upset of USC in Harbaugh's first year as coach.

Pritchard, who remains part of the program, started last year's Sun Bowl because of a thumb injury Luck incurred in the regular season finale against Notre Dame.

"He is the ultimate team player," Luck said. "He helped me more than I could ever repay him. He can do a number of things and he's helped me and the team."

Offensively, Stanford matches up well against Virginia Tech. The Cardinal rushed for 2,532 yards, with Stepfan Taylor (1,023 yards, 15 touchdowns) leading the way, and the Hokies rushed for 2,716 yards spread around four guys, including Taylor, and topped by Darren Evans (62.8 per game average, 11 touchdowns).

Virginia Tech averages 35.5 points and 411.1 yards on offense while the Cardinal averages 40.3 and 467.3 yards a contest.

While it figures to be a high-scoring affair, both defenses have shown a stingy side. Stanford allows 17.8 points and the Hokies allow 19.1 points.

Senior receiver Doug Baldwin, who grew up in Gulf Breeze, Fla. (a mere 672 miles on the Florida turnpike from Miami but just 200 miles from New Orleans), had a breakout year with 56 receptions for 824 yards and nine touchdowns. He had 38 catches, 503 yards and four touchdowns in his first three years combined.

Ryan Whalen, who missed two games with an injury, has 39 catches for 415 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Tight ends Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz have each caught four touchdown passes on a combined 36 receptions.

Virginia Tech's Jarrett Boykin has 48 catches for 763 yards and Danny Coale has caught 32 passes for 640 yards.

The Hokies have returned one punt and two kickoffs (both by David Wilson) for touchdowns this season while Stanford has been shut out in that area. Chris Owusu and Usua Amanam have shared kickoff return duties for the Cardinal while Drew Terrell has been the main punt returner.

Virginia Tech's Jayron Hosley has eight interceptions while Richard Sherman and Delano Howell, each former offensive players, have intercepted four passes apiece. Owen Marecic has two picks, returning one for a touchdown. Michael Thomas returned a fumble for a touchdown.

Hokies' kicker Chris Hazley is 20-of-21 on field goal tries while Stanford's Nate Whitaker is 17-of-19.

Marecic should, of course, be in a special category. Not only does he have a 39-yard interception return for a score, he's rushed for 42 yards and four touchdowns, caught nine passes for 75 yards and recorded 45 tackles, including a sack, and has five pass breakups.

Shayne Skov leads the Cardinal with 72 total tackles, despite missing two games with an injury. Chase Thomas leads the team with 47 solo tackles and is second with 66 overall.

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