It's amazing how things can change in the space of two hours. At halftime things looked tense, as the Cardinal clung to a 13-12 lead and hadn't played their best football. With Virginia Tech set to receive the opening kick off, it seemed certain that the game would remain close and maybe come down to a play made by one quarterback or the other in the final minutes.
But it didn't happen that way. After quickly snuffing out VaTech's opening drive, the defense handed the ball over to Andrew Luck, who did what Stanford fans have grown used to seeing him do. He led the Mighty Card on four consecutive touchdown drives to show the rest of the nation what we already know: the Stanford Cardinal are at least the second-best team in the country.
Andrew Luck threw four touchdowns to earn the Orange Bowl MVP, but he only did what he always does. He was ridiculously efficient as he completed 18 of 23 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns. After the game Coach Jim Harbaugh invoked Reggie Jackson when discussing Luck: "He's the straw that stirs the drink around here." The unexpected came from tight end Coby Fleener who totaled 173 yards receiving and THREE touchdowns.
Luck and the offense got all the glory, but I think the real story of the game was Shayne Skov and the dominant Stanford defense. Much of the talk heading into the night surrounded Virginia Tech's trio of NFL-bound running backs, but they were stifled all night, as the Hokies only managed 66 yards rushing. Tyrod Taylor dazzled in the first half, but he was sacked eight times, and after that Howell interception, he and the Hokies never threatened.
Stanford's defensive star (and GMC's Orange Bowl MVP) was sophomore linebacker Shayne Skov. Rocking a vicious mohawk and enough eye black to make Alice Cooper proud, Skov was flying around the field all night long, whether covering tight ends down field, stuffing running backs at the line, or pulling down Taylor in the backfield. It was the best game of his young career, and I'm certain it will earn him several preseason mentions on various All-PAC-12 and even All-America lists.
If there's one criticism of Harbaugh, it's that he never takes his foot off the gas. Deep into the fourth quarter, with his team up thirty, Harbaugh trotted out a new wrinkle on offense. On a second and short, the offensive line went into a series of shifts, including actually standing and sliding down the line and back before sending three tight ends in motion. In the end it was only so much sound and fury, signifying nothing. The ensuing play gained a yard or so and probably pissed off the Hokie coaches, but it was fun.
Afterwards, of course, much of the talk surrounded the respective futures of Luck and Harbaugh, but neither would reveal anything in post game interviews. I'll have lots more on all that in the days and weeks to come, but for now I'll simply enjoy this Orange Bowl win. I suggest you do the same.
Go Mighty Card.
[Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images]