(4) Stanford (11-1) vs. (13) Virginia Tech (11-2) (+3.5)
“Oxymoron” seems to be the word to describe this game. It’s going to be a tight, nip-and-tuck, defensive affair but at the same time there will be big plays sprinkled in there by both teams. That doesn’t make sense on the surface since either it’s a high-scoring game or it’s a defensive game, but if any two teams can make both a reality, it’s Stanford and Virginia Tech.
It’s actually to Virginia Tech’s benefit to force Stanford to run the ball because it keeps the ball out of Andrew Luck’s hands. The Scouts preview on ESPN.com would have you believe the Hokies won’t be able to sit their safeties back in coverage and keep everything in front of them because the Cardinal will just run on their normal seven man front.
Forcing Stanford to grind the entire game by running the ball more than usual and limiting Luck’s opportunities for big passes and scrambles helps Virginia Tech because they have their own big-play quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. While Taylor isn’t as good a passer as Luck, he’s even more of a dual threat, meaning Stanford can’t commit either way. If the Hokies can score as well as they have been, slowing Stanford down gives them a huge advantage. And it’s not like Bud Foster and Frank Beamer don’t know what Stanford is going to do offensively anyway.
This means the Hokies are simply going to have to make plays through Stanford’s excellent run blocking. I would much rather try to make plays against run blocking than throwing nine guys in the box and hoping the cornerbacks can win in single coverage all night. Especially because stacking the box invites Stanford to go play-action, and who the hell knows what can happen then.
Win or lose, I think this is it at Stanford for Jim Harbaugh, and maybe Andrew Luck too, regardless of what he’s been saying lately. Their respective reputations will never be better than right now, and Stanford isn’t the last stop for either one. Harbaugh is going to be coveted by several NFL teams and possibly Michigan as well, so unless he really likes Palo Alto, he should make his move now.
If both Luck and Harbagh come back and Stanford isn’t as good as they were this year, both will take his professionally. It’s doubtful the Mango-like obsession with Andrew Luck on the part of NFL scouts will change, but he should learn from the lesson of Sam Bradford’s senior year in college. If Luck stayed healthy through his senior year, he’d have to deal with scouts and experts picking every little thing apart that didn’t seem to matter a year prior.
And if both do stay and Stanford is just as successful in 2011, then suddenly Harbaugh has a Boise State on his hands: a program that’s “small” by conventional definition, but through the great work of the coach is suddenly too big to leave for another job. Especially if it’s Michigan, which would be a step down even in 2010. God knows what it will be a year from now.
Usually, I would trust Beamer Ball to be able to handle whatever Stanford threw at them, but I think Harbaugh gets his team fired up one last time and they make one more big play than the Hokies. That said, I think Virginia Tech is very much in the game for all four quarters.