Dec. 31, 2010
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Past or present, Stanford carries a great deal of respect for the Virginia Tech defense.
Present: "It's quite possibly the best defense we'll face all year," quarterback Andrew Luck said.
Past: When Greg Roman, Stanford's assistant head coach for offense, scouted college talent while on NFL staffs, he always tried to gather film against Virginia Tech, because he knew the Hokies would provide the truest test for an evaluation of any player.
"If I had a chance to watch Virginia Tech I would make sure I did," Roman said Friday, at a press conference at the Marriott Harbor Beach. "For offensive linemen, I would see them have to deal with Tech's quickness, toughness, and relentlessness. For a tight end, I could see them having to deal with guys trying beating them up at the line of scrimmage and try to match up with them in coverage.
"For a quarterback, I could evaluate them against all the different coverage looks they needed to see that Tech would provide, like an NFL team. And for wide receivers, you could see them against defensive backs that are going to try to come up and try to lay you out."
Stanford's task will certainly be formidable Monday when it takes on Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium (5:30 p.m. PT; 8:30 p.m. ET).
The success of Stanford's offense could come down to these three factors:
• Maintain balance
• Receivers must make plays
• Match Tech's intensity
The following is a breakdown of each.
"There's no question that balance is the key to our offense," Roman said.
Stanford's numbers reflect that. The Cardinal has 32 touchdowns rushing and 28 passing. Stanford also passed for 3,076 yards passing, but still rushed for 2,532, nearly as high as it did in setting a school record last season with 2009 Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart.
"Our offense is pretty multiple," Roman said "We built it to where we can be different against different teams and styles of defenses, so we can adapt and change pretty well. It's very important for us to have a balance, to run and throw effectively on all downs, especially on first and second down."
Because Stanford prides itself on a power running game, would it be wise for Virginia Tech to overplay the run and dare Heisman Trophy finalist Andrew Luck to pass?
"I'm not sure I'm buying that," Roman said.
"As an offensive line, our key will always be to run the ball," first-team All-America center Chase Beeler said. "Our thought process is that if we can run the ball, we can open up that dimension of the game, and Andrew can do what he does best, both on the ground and through the air."
Roman said that Stanford approaches the running game a little differently than most teams.
"Our philosophy is that it takes all 11 to run the football effectively and that includes the quarterback," he said. "Our wide receivers do a great job blocking, our tight end, our offensive line, our backs. It takes all 11."
Receivers Must Make Plays
The strength of the Virginia Tech defense is its secondary. The Hokies have intercepted 22 passes, a figure that ranks No. 2 in the country, and are second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in passing efficiency defense.
Sophomore cornerback Jayron Hosley is tied for the national lead with eight interceptions, and safety Davon Morgan also received All-ACC honors.
"Their secondary has very good instincts and very good ball skills," Roman said. "You can't just throw lollipops up there against this secondary because they've shown they're going to come down with it."
Therefore, the onus is on the receivers to maintain Stanford's offensive balance, or to take advantage is the Hokies' defense if it overloads against the run and leaves Cardinal receivers in man coverage.
"We're going to have to make plays down the field against these guys," receiver Ryan Whalen said. "It's a great opportunity. Andrew's going to throw the ball where it needs to be. We need to get open, recognize the different looks that they give, be able to read the coverages and know where we're supposed to be when we get there."
Taking that point a step further, Stanford must take advantage of its red-zone opportunities. Stanford is No. 2 in the country in red-zone touchdown passes (19) and will need to maintain that success against a Hokie defense that hasn't allowed any points 25 percent of the time opponents reach the 20.
"That's been crucial to our success, being able to score in the red zone," Whalen said. "And we don't want to score field goals, we want to score touchdowns, big time. That's our goal, to get the ball in the end zone."
Virginia Tech is known for its relentless defensive play. Stanford's offense will have to be ready, and match it.
"We're really going to have to amp up our game," Roman said. "Our players go into every game thinking we're going to play harder than the other team. That's a goal of ours. Obviously, against Virginia Tech, that's going to be difficult because they play so hard."
It's not just the Hokies' intensity, it's how that intensity reflects its style.
"They're always going to have 11 sets of eyes on the ball on every single play," Roman said. "And when the ball gets to where it's supposed to get, there's going to be a whole lot of bodies. They're always watching the ball, always rallying to the ball."
Because the Hokies are so active, Stanford's offensive line may be pressed more than usual.
"The biggest thing that we've picked up on film as an offensive line, was that they play extremely hard," Beeler said. "They're an extremely physical front four, front seven, and they are relentless in their pursuit of the ball.
"It really does require us to try to protect for 3-4-5 seconds, however long it's going to take, in order to get the ball off. With the fact that they have a very talented secondary which make it more difficult for the receivers to get open, it means the play is probably going to run a little bit longer because things may take longer to develop."
Beeler added one more insight.
"You better pack you're `A' game when you play Virginia Tech," he said.
"They're the fastest, most athletic group that we've played," Whalen said. "That's what I'm excited about. You want to play against the best guys on a national stage. What else could you ask for?"
On New Year's Day, the first 30 minutes of practice at Barry University will be open to the public starting at 12:45 p.m.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics