FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Stanford defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spent 24 seasons in the NFL before taking over the Cardinal’s defense. Prior to that, he hadn’t coached at the collegiate level since 1983, when he was a graduate assistant at North Carolina.
It hasn’t taken him long to get reacquainted.
Stanford enters the Discover Orange Bowl with one of the nation’s top defenses, but Fangio knows one of the toughest tests lies ahead in trying to contain mobile Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
“When you watch him play, he's like the point guard of a great basketball team; the guy just makes plays many different ways,” Fangio said. “Our biggest challenge is going to be to tackle him in open spaces because you can see that's where a lot of his stuff comes from, and their team feeds off of that. So he will be hard to contain, as their running backs are, also. We'll have our work cut out for us. He's similar to the guy at Oregon and I think Oregon State that we played in the Pac-10.”
Stanford ranks in the top three in the Pac-10 and nationally in five defensive categories, and has allowed just 44 points in its final five regular season games. That’s the fewest points allowed by a Stanford defense in a five-game stretch since the 1971 season. Stanford has allowed just six touchdowns in its last five games, two of which came in the fourth quarter against Cal after the Cardinal surged to a 45-0 lead.
It’s an impressive turnaround, considering Stanford finished eighth in the conference inscoring defense (26.5) and ninth in the Pac-10 in total defense a year ago.
“You don't make the improvement that they have from one year to the next defensively unless something is going on there in terms of coaching and playing,” said Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. “And to go from a bottom-tier in total defense to the top in their conference and to be 11th in the country in scoring defense, that doesn't just happen by accident. I think it goes back to their defensive personnel and obviously their defensive coaches.”
On a team known for its blue-collar defenses, Virginia Tech’s offense has stolen the spotlight this year. Taylor, along with a tailback rotation that includes three NFL prospects in Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson, have been the difference in the Hokies’ 11-game winning streak.
“Virginia Tech’s offense, along with the run game, they thrive off of what he’s capable of doing and the intangibles he has as a quarterback,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov. “Obviously you have some awareness of where he is in the pocket and try and keep him in the pocket, but we’re definitely pressuring the same way we have all year. We’re not going to back down. We’re going to consistently bring pressure and attack their offensive scheme.”
The Cardinal has watched plenty of film – at least 10 games – of Virginia Tech’s offense to try and figure out the best way to stop Taylor.
“There’s a lot of different strategies on how to attack him, especially watching all the different teams,” said defensive end Brian Bulcke. “Some teams try to cage him, some try to slow rush him, some teams go after him. When it comes down to it, we’re just going to do what we’ve done all season.”
So far, it’s worked pretty well.