Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Stanford a league above Hokies, ACC

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Sun Life Stadium began to empty before the fourth quarter even began. It was still just a two-touchdown game at that point, a manageable margin in college football, but the large Virginia Tech contingent already had gotten its answer.

Stanford was stronger, tougher, faster.


The best player on the field -- perhaps the best in the nation -- did the bulk of the damage, but the second half of Tech's 40-12 Orange Bowl loss to No. 5 Stanford was a thorough whipping on both sides of the ball. Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor spent the last quarter of his brilliant college career running for his life -- and getting caught. The Hokies run defense gave up chunk after chunk of huge yardage. And Andrew Luck did what the probable No. 1 pick in the draft does, threading four touchdown passes through a porous Tech secondary.

The last one was particularly embarrassing to the Hokies. Receiver Coby Fleener -- a guy who'd already caught two scoring passes in the game -- somehow was allowed to streak straight down the middle of the field. There wasn't anyone within five yards of him when Luck's pass floated into his arms for a 38-yard goodnight kiss.

The Hokies had a lot of plays like that in this one, which is why they have a lot of explaining to do to a fan base which finally was ready to believe their team could beat a top-five team.

The ACC should get some heat, too, for preparing its champion so poorly for a test of this magnitude. The Hokies deserve credit for taking care of business in a bad league, but once again that league hasn't proven much of anything. Even wins against the likes of Florida State and Miami lose some shine when you stack their players up against the Pac-10 runners-up, who left no doubt that they were legit.

Stanford's huge front four abused Tech's offensive line. Even when the Hokies tried to run it on passing downs, there was nowhere to go. Too much penetration.

Taylor was sacked a whopping eight times, as Stanford constantly shifted its alignments before the snap to keep the Hokies blockers guessing. Tech's running attack produced a paltry 66 yards and no touchdowns. Running backs Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson combined for only 44 yards on 18 carries.

"We got in a lot of second-and-9s," Beamer said. "And that's a hard way to live. ... They kind of got us out of our rhythm."

It was the first time since September ended that this offense looked flummoxed. This team allowed Beamer to do things he never would have considered before, like try to turn a first down at your own 20-yard line into points in only 47 seconds before the half.

The Hokies needed just 44 ticks to get a field goal, closing the margin to 13-12 at intermission. That's the offense of the 11-game winning streak, the offense that produced no fewer than 26 points in a game from Oct. 2 on.

But that impressive two-minute drive Monday was where the good vibes ended for Tech. Stanford's halftime adjustments clearly were superior.

Luck drove the Cardinal 59 yards on his team's first possession of the third quarter, knocking the Hokies back into chase mode. And Tech had no finishing kick.

"They just outplayed us in all parts of the game," Taylor said.

In a few weeks, the Hokies will look back on this season and be able to put it in better perspective. But this one ended with Beamer and Taylor talking about disappointment, talking about letting the ACC down, talking about all that went wrong.

And there was plenty to discuss.

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