Orange Bowl: Stanford, VaTech on historic runs

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Orange Bowl: Stanford, VaTech on historic runs

Dec. 30, 2010NO. 5 STANFORD (11-1) vs.NO. 12 VIRGINIA TECH (11-2)

2010-11 BOWL SCHEDULERESULTS

MIAMI (AP) -- In only four years, Stanford has completed a turnaround from doormat to elite team.

The reward for its hard work is a BCS bowl game against Virginia Tech -- one of the few teams in college football hotter than the Cardinal.

In a matchup pitting two of the nation's best quarterbacks, Andrew Luck leads Stanford into its first Orange Bowl on Monday night to take on Tyrod Taylor and ACC champion Hokies, who will try to close their season with a 12th consecutive win.

Stanford's transformation began in 2007 when Jim Harbaugh took over a team that had gone 1-11 the previous year. The Cardinal increased their win total each of the first three seasons under the former Michigan and NFL star quarterback before going a school-record 11-1 in 2010.

Even Harbaugh has been surprised.

ROSTERS: Stanford Virginia Tech

"I'm pretty much a historian of football, dating back 100 years," he said. "This is one of the best turnarounds I've witnessed in 50 years."

Since losing to then-No. 4 Oregon in early October, Stanford has reeled off seven straight wins, its longest run in 19 years.

"That's why this program has progressed, because guys have bought into what he's saying and what he was preaching," defensive lineman Sione Fua said of Harbaugh. "And now we're here four years later going to a BCS game."

A little bit of Luck has also helped.

Luck was a distant second to Auburn's Cam Newton in the Heisman Trophy voting, but he certainly put up stellar numbers. The Pac-10's offensive player of the year broke the single-season school record with 28 touchdown passes while helping the Cardinal average 40.3 points.

Luck has also completed more than 70 percent of his throws for 3,051 yards and rushed for 438 more, including three runs of at least 50 yards.

"With Andrew, you notice all of it because it's just amazing," said Doug Baldwin, who leads Stanford's receivers with 824 yards and nine TDs. "... You look on highlight film of the NFL and you don't see the things Andrew does at the college level."

The junior has thrown only seven interceptions, but he'll be facing one of the most opportunistic defenses in the nation. Virginia Tech is second in the FBS with 22 picks.

Luck's second-place Heisman finish was the second straight for the Cardinal after Toby Gerhart was runner-up to Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009. Stanford, though, could have a Heisman winner down the road in running back Stepfan Taylor.

The sophomore was second in the Pac-10 with 15 TDs, trailing Ducks star and Heisman finalist LaMichael James. Taylor also became the sixth Stanford running back to eclipse 1,000 yards.

While Stanford is seeking its first postseason win since blanking Michigan State in the 1996 Sun Bowl, Virginia Tech probably couldn't have envisioned reaching a BCS game after seeing its national title hopes quickly disappear.

STATISTICS: Stanford Virginia Tech

Following a season-opening loss to Boise State, the Hokies were stunned five days later by FCS member James Madison, 21-16 in arguably the biggest upset of the year.

Frank Beamer's team hasn't lost since, defeating Florida State 44-33 on Dec. 4 to capture its third ACC title in four years.

"Those two losses we had at the beginning of the year makes these 11 wins and an ACC championship seem even greater," Beamer said.

The biggest factor in the Hokies bouncing back from the puzzling first two games to reach the Orange Bowl is Taylor.

Despite the stunningly poor start by his team, the conference player of the year finished with a school-record 23 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Taylor was the team's second-leading rusher with 823 yards and five scores, evoking memories of a former dual threat.

"We were fortunate to have Michael Vick at Virginia Tech. We were fortunate to have Tyrod Taylor. You get that feeling on the sideline like the next play could be a big play," Beamer said.

Taylor's top receivers are Jarrett Boykin (team highs of 763 yards and six TDs), Danny Coale (640 yards, three TDs) and tight end Andre Smith (five TDs). Darren Evans and Ryan Williams also provide punch out of the backfield - Evans leads the Hokies with 846 yards and 11 scores while Williams has gained 525 yards with nine TDs in only nine games.

Besides leading the ACC with 58 touchdowns and 462 points, Virginia Tech became the only school in the nation to notch 10 wins in each of the last seven seasons.

REWIND: Stanford results Virginia Tech season recap

That seemed highly unlikely not long ago.

"I'm just proud of the way we turned things around from an 0-2 start," Taylor said after beating Florida State.

This will be the Hokies' third Orange Bowl appearance in four years. They lost 24-21 to Kansas in 2008 and defeated Cincinnati 20-7 in 2009.

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

CHICAGO — Had a half-dozen other things gone differently Wednesday night, the Giants might have spent the hour after the game shrugging off a blowout loss or celebrating one of the best at-bats of the year. 

Three innings after the game was nearly lost for good, Mac Williamson saw 12 pitches from Wade Davis, who entered with a perfect ERA in 19 appearances, fouling eight of them off before slamming a two-run homer to right. The play came with some comedic value, as Williamson nearly passed Eduardo Nuñez on the bases. It also came with some historic value, as it snapped a streak of 19 consecutive solo shots that was two shy of the MLB record. 

The homer was not, however, the talking point after the game. A few minutes after Williamson went deep, Joe Panik was tossing his bat into the grass in frustration over a called third strike that ended the game and clinched a 5-4 win for the Cubs. Ten minutes after that, Bruce Bochy watched the highlight and tossed his phone onto his desk. 

“It’s a shame to end on that call, it really is,” Bochy said. “We had him on fumes and that’s not a strike. But they got the call and that’s it.”

The Giants were left with their third loss in four games, a run that has halted their momentum. They again are 11 games back in the National League West, with so many nights like this one: A comeback seemed real, but the mistakes were too much to overcome. 

Williamson, in talking about his homer, pivoted and pointed to a blunder of his own. In a tied game in the fifth, Miguel Montero hit a single to right with Addison Russell on first. The speedy shortstop watched Williamson as the ball rolled into the outfield, and when Williamson didn’t charge as hard as he otherwise might, Russell took off for third. The throw was perfect, but late. Russell scored on a fly ball. 

“The home run is really cool but it would have been a lot cooler if I hadn’t have made the mistake earlier in the game and given them the extra run,” Williamson said, explaining that he has tried to focus on being smooth to the ball and not rushing on fast outfields. In the past, rushing has led to bobbles and extra bases. 

Another costly sequence came in the eighth. After the Giants left the bases loaded in the top of the inning, Steven Okert gave up a triple to Jason Heyward, who scored on a sacrifice fly. Okert, so good when he was first called up, has been less effective of late. 

“We’ve got to get our lefties going,” Bochy said. “We gave them a run there and that put it at three and that’s just enough to cover it for them.”

Truth be told, the Giants were probably lucky to even have worries at that point. The wind blew a three-run Heyward homer inches foul in the sixth, and while the Giants grumbled about the final call of the game, an earlier call on Heyward for running inside the base path took a Cubs run off the board and killed a rally. It was correct by the letter of the law, but one you rarely see. The Giants escaped, but they wouldn’t come all the way back, despite Williamson’s late push. 

The young outfielder has been looking to make an impact since coming back up on the last homestand. He knew how tough Davis has been. 

“He’s been the best in the game this year and the numbers speak for themselves,” Williamson said. “He has phenomenal stuff. You get in the box and figure you’ve got nothing to lose, battle as tough as you can.”

Williamson fouled off good strikes and tantalizing balls. When he lofted a 2-2 pitch toward right, he took off out of the box. The ball carried just over the wall, and Williamson didn’t look up until he rounded third. That’s when Phil Nevin started yelling at him to slow down. Nuñez, who had a tight hamstring, turned and told Williamson to slow down.

“I kinda blacked out for a second there,” Williamson said. 

“I was like, ‘Bro, it’s a homer — just jog,’” Nunez said.

The moment temporarily sent a rush through the dugout. Minutes later, the Giants were left livid over a game that probably shouldn’t have been so close, but nonetheless was right there for them to steal. 

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Giants will need a win on getaway day to clinch their first winning road trip.

Wednesday's comeback attempt fell just short, as the Giants scored two in the ninth but lost to the Cubs 5-4. Since taking the first two games in St. Louis, they have dropped three of four, falling 11 games back of the Rockies in the division.

Here are five things to know from the coldest Giants game of the year … 

— Mac Williamson fouled off eight pitches before going the opposite way against Wade Davis, who entered with a 0.00 ERA in 19 appearances. The two-run homer ended a run of 19 consecutive solo shots by the Giants, two short of their own MLB record. It was the first homer off Davis in two years. 

— The sixth inning was one of the stranger escapes we’ve seen from a pitcher this season. With two on and one out, Jason Heyward blasted a Matt Moore pitch right down the line and it looked like it would give the Cubs a 6-2 lead. The wind blew the ball a couple of feet foul. Heyward then topped one down the line and Moore’s throw bounced away from first, allowing a run to score. But the umpires called — correctly — Heyward out for running inside the line. It’s a call you rarely see. Moore then struck out Addison Russell to keep what could have easily been a 6-2 or 4-2 game at 3-2. 

— Before the first game of this series, a Giant asked in the dugout, “I wonder what some of the Cubs’ numbers would look like at our place?” Anthony Rizzo is a .159 hitter with no homers in 18 career games at AT&T Park, but he had no issues on a night when conditions were worse than they are most nights in San Francisco. Rizzo homered off Moore in his first two at-bats. 

— Rizzo will occasionally put a bunt down to beat the shift — he had an accidental bunt in his third at-bat — which the Giants have long wanted Brandon Belt to do. Belt pushed one away from the shift in the sixth, and even though it was too close to pitcher Kyle Hendricks, the throw was off and Belt reached second. One of those a week would open up a few more holes. 

— This lineup has made a habit of making mediocre and downright bad pitchers look good, and the actual good ones are taking advantage, too. A night after Jon Lester recorded his first complete game of the year, Hendricks threw seven innings for the first time.