Harbaugh, Luck have every answer for Hokies, but questions remain
MIAMI GARDENS -- The party on the Stanford sideline was in full force with 6 minutes to play. The scoreboard read Cardinal 40, Hokies 12, and the delirious Stanford student section was celebrating a pending Orange Bowl championship. Condoleezza Rice beamed by in her Cardinal red, chatted up John Elway and posed with the Stanford cheerleaders for pictures. Players were exchanging hugs, high-fives and looking for relatives in the crowd. This moment in Miami for Stanford football was meant to be soaked up, and the men with the red "S" on their helmets were doing their best.
Quarterback Andrew Luck, who earned MVP honors with his four-touchdown, 287-yard performance, wanted to give the Gatorade treatment to coach Jim Harbaugh, but the clock seemed to run out too fast. When it hit zero, James McGillicuddy and Zach Ertz carried Harbaugh to the center of the field, and the celebration was truly on. Stanford added an exclamation point to an historic season, finishing 12-1 after dismantling ACC champion Virginia Tech in the second half. Players threw oranges from the championship trophy into the crowd and danced along with their famed band.
"When so many people want something so bad, and you fight for it, in the end, you get it," said linebacker Shayne Skov, noting that the turnaround from 1-11 in 2006 to 12-1 in 2010 capped a dream. "We knew we were committed to going this far."
The two most common chants from the student section during the final moments of the game, however, indicated the uncertainty of the immediate future of life at The Farm. "We Want Harbaugh" and "One More Year" cascaded through the warm night. The superstar coach and the superstar quarterback may be bolting after leading Stanford to its first BCS bowl win.
Harbaugh's future dominated the pregame talk, as everyone from SI's Peter King to ESPN's Chris Mortensen were stating that several teams were waiting for the final whistle to talk to the former Pro Bowl quarterback. Elway, on the sidelines as an honorary captain and proud Stanford alum, was rumored to be interested in recruiting Harbaugh to the Broncos. Outside the stadium, there was no consensus among Stanford fans as to what would happen, other than nobody wanted Harbaugh at Michigan. Leaving for the NFL seemed OK to the fan base for both Harbaugh and Luck, but Harbaugh's standing at the school would be damaged should he return to his alma mater.
Harbaugh was the first man off the Stanford team bus when it pulled into SunLife Stadium shortly after 6 p.m. with a pink South Florida sky behind him. He made his way to the locker room as quickly as possible, resisting ABC's Michele Tafoya's best efforts to get a short interview by saying he would be return shortly. As promised, he popped out of the locker room a few minutes later, play card in his right hand, and faced several questions about his future.
Predictably, Harbaugh told her he and his team were focused on nothing but Virginia Tech, then he left the interview slightly perturbed. Tafoya appeared to explain herself during warmups on the field, but Harbaugh wasn't overly sympathetic.
After the game, he was in the mood to celebrate, not speculate. "Give me a break," he said when the first question of the postgame press conference was whether this was his last game at Stanford. "Have some respect for the game. It's about the performance of these players. Let's talk about them."
Luck, too, preferred to savor the moment and leave his NFL decision to another day. He declined to answer whether or not he was going pro after spending three hours showing why he is ready. Luck directed four touchdown drives to start the second half, making throws in and out of the pocket. He completed 18 of his 23 passes and was the catalyst of Stanford's dominating finish.
"Andrew is an amazing teammate and an amazing player," said tight end Coby Fleener, who was fairly amazing himself with six catches for 173 yards and three touchdowns. "Without him, I would not have been able to have the night I had."
Stanford seized control of the game by demonstrating its offensive balance in spectacular fashion in the third quarter. Following a poorly thrown Tyrod Taylor pass that was picked off by Delano Howell, Stanford started at its own 3-yard line midway through the third quarter leading 19-12. Stepfan Taylor ripped off a 56-yard gain through a gaping hole on the first play. Luck then hit Fleener over the middle for 41 yards on the next, and just like that, Stanford covered 97 yards in two plays and had a commanding 26-12 lead.
Stanford's defense contained ACC Player of the Year Tyrod Taylor all night as the QB finished 16 for 31 for 222 yards plus 22 rushing yards. Taylor displayed his Vick-ian skills on a brilliant second-quarter touchdown, spinning away from two-way stud Owen Marecic along the sideline and rifling an 11-yard touchdown pass to David Wilson. But the Cardinal were disciplined in their pass rush, using Skov as a spy on Taylor. Stanford also shut down the Hokies' run game (their tailbacks averaged 2.6 yards per rush), forcing Taylor to try and beat them.
"That was as big as anything in the ballgame," Harbaugh said.
On the other sideline, a disappointed Frank Beamer will have to figure out how Virginia Tech's 11-game winning streak was snapped with such ease. On Sunday, Beamer said he felt this game was vital to his program. For all the success the Hokies have enjoyed over the years, they were just 1-26 against Top 5 teams, a record offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring labeled an "albatross" for the Hokies earlier in the week. Beamer acknowledged this bowl was critical and would stand alongside the Sugar Bowl win vs. Texas in 1995 and the beatdown of No. 2 Miami in 2003 as milestones for his team.
"No. 1, you give Stanford credit," a gracious Beamer said Monday. "They did some good things, and I think we helped them be good. But give them all the credit; they deserved the win."
When the postgame interview sessions broke up, Luck and Harbaugh were having a good laugh while being driven in a golf cart through the underside of the stadium. Both waved to a young Stanford fan, then disappeared from view around a corner. If indeed this is the end of their Stanford careers, it was one heck of a goodbye.