Posted by Chip Patterson
The Basics: Virginia Tech and Stanford meet in the Discover Orange Bowl on Monday night in Miami at 8:30 p.m. EST.
Why To Watch: Many fans have complained about the level of play in the games thus far in the bowl season. If you enjoyed the thrill of the Rose Bowl, you can expect a similar battle in Sun Life Stadium on Monday. After losing to Oregon in Autzen Stadium, the Cardinal took matters into their own hands to prove themselves as the best one-loss team in the nation. Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck led Stanford as they won the last seven games of their schedule by an average margin of 22.0 points.
Virginia Tech has been on quite the tear themselves, having won 11 straight after starting the season 0-2. The Hokies fell to Boise State and James Madison in a five day span that caused many to write the Hokies off in 2010. When Virginia Tech picked themselves up, they stormed into conference play with a "refuse to lose" attitude that carried them all the way to their fourth ACC Championship since joining the conference in 2004. Whether it was coming back from a 17 point halftime deficit at N.C. State or knocking off Georgia Tech with a fourth quarter kickoff return TD, the Hokies have displayed a resiliency in each game that is representative of their season.
As far as personnel goes, the game could end up being a duel between two of college football's hottest quarterbacks. Luck, likely the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, has been phenomenal all season and will look to finish strong what will likely be his last season at Stanford. Virginia Tech has been led by ACC Player of the Year Tyrod Taylor, who has overcome multiple injuries throughout his career to thrive in his final season in Blacksburg. Taylor entered with expectations of the next Michael Vick, but it has not been until 2010 when those comparisons have really felt accurate. Both quarterbacks are as dangerous with their legs as they are with their arms, and it should make for a thrilling back and forth between the two teams.
Keys to victory for Stanford: Establish the running game early, and use it to dictate the pace of the game. So much focus is put on Luck's ability to spread the ball out to several receivers, running back Stepfan Taylor is often overlooked as one of the most consistent aspects to the Cardinal offense. Averaging just over 85 yards per game, and ranking second in the Pac-10 with 15 touchdowns, Stanford can utilize Taylor to control the game - particularly if the Hokies are forced to focus heavily on defending the pass. Getting penetration into the Virginia Tech backfield will be crucial for Stanford as well, forcing Tyrod Taylor to make decisions on the run out of the pocket. Taylor is at his best when he has protection to hang in the pocket and then take off up the middle, Stanford should focus on forcing him to the sidelines where he has less room to make people miss in the open field.
Keys to victory for Virginia Tech: The Hokies have to play a complete game against Stanford. The Cardinal are so talented on both sides of the ball, not to mention well-coached and tough as nails. There will be no opportunities to take a play off and certainly no second chances for Virginia Tech. This is a winnable game for the Hokies, but they must be as close to mistake-free as possible. Stanford didn't blow out all of their opponents this year, but they did a great job of wearing down their opponents. It would be incredibly unoriginal for me to reference "Beamer Ball," but if the Hokies can get a big play out of their special teams unit it could be the deciding factor in a gritty matchup that could come down to the final minutes.
The Orange Bowl is like: One of the "other" Summer Blockbusters. You know those summers when Hollywood trots out a series of big budget movies? Well the Orange Bowl is like the Memorial Day release. It's not going to get the July 4th treatment or anything like that, but it certainly will set the tone for the rest of the summer season. The Orange Bowl has the potential to be one of those memorable games, so getcha popcorn ready.