MIAMI -- The man on the field with the black face paint needs no introduction.
He has been a force on the Stanford defense all season. So it stood to reason he would be a force on the Stanford defense in the biggest game of the season -- a 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Shayne Skov led the team with 12 tackles, including three sacks and five tackles for loss in yet another inspired defensive performance. Skov led the team in tackles this season despite missing the first two games, and has been a menace to anyone standing before him.
Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor can certainly attest to that. Where he had some success running out of the pocket and gaining chunks of yards in the first half, he had none in the second.
The Stanford defense buckled down shut out the Hokies after taking a 13-12 lead into halftime. More blitzes were dialed up, and more big plays from Skov came.
“The game plan was the same as it’s been all year,” Skov said. “We’re going to blitz, we’re going to pressure. We knew Tyrod was going to make plays with his legs. If guys were missing other guys were going to have to be there to cover him. Just swarm to the ball and play together on defense.”
That didn’t always work in the first half. Taylor had 43 yards rushing early in the game, and his touchdown throw was one work of art. Taylor eluded several would-be tacklers as he ran toward the sideline, somehow stayed in bounds, set his feet and delivered a laser to David Wilson into the end zone.
There would be no more of that.
“If you look at the first half, their scoring drive came when we were putting them in third and long, and then Tyrod would extend the play,” Skov said. “We had to finish the play on third down. We were tentative in first half rushing after him. The second half was really getting after him. If you miss, you miss -- get back up and come back after him.”
They did just that, as Taylor was sacked several more times and ended up with just 22 yards rushing. Virginia Tech only had 66 total yards on the ground all night. “It’s as big a point of emphasis of anything that was in the game, the way we were able to bottle up and shut down the run made them throw the football,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Perhaps the turning point of the game came in the third quarter, when Delano Howell intercepted a pass from Taylor. Virginia Tech had driven into Stanford territory, down 19-12. But after the mistake, Stanford scored two plays later and the rout was on.
That allowed Stanford to put even more pressure on Taylor because his running game had been taken from him. Skov deflected the credit for his big game to his defensive line, which commanded double teams. That left Skov open to make big plays -- even though he lamented missing “four or five sacks.”
“Maybe the camera missed that,” Skov said. “The credit goes to the guys up front. It’s those guys who made my life easy.”
It was yet another dominating performance for a defense that has played its best at the end of the season. Stanford gave up just 56 points in its final six games, and allowed just seven touchdowns.
Skov credits defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and a cohesiveness on a unit that grew to trust and rely on one another.
“We’ve really stuck together,” Skov said. “When you can play that way, good things are in the cards for you.”