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Posted at 9:22 AM ET, 12/30/2010

It's not just Andrew Luck that scares Virginia Tech's defense

By Mark Giannotto

Considering its coach is a former NFL quarterback and its star player, Andrew Luck, is a quarterback and a Heisman Trophy finalist, it's easy to make the assumption that Stanford features a passing-oriented offense.

That, according to Virginia Tech's defensive coaches, is exactly what the Cardinal would like people to think even though its signal caller could go No.1 in the upcoming NFL draft.

“They probably want that illusion. It gives you the illusion that it’s all throwing, but it’s not," Hokies defensive line coach Charley Wiles said Wednesday. "Coach [Jim] Harbaugh knows you win a lot of games throwing it, but you win it all running it.”

The statistics bear this out. While Stanford averages more yards per game through the air, the Cardinal's ground game actually ranks higher nationally (17th rushing compared to 30th passing).

Stanford averages 211 yards per game rushing and has four players averaging more than 25 yards per game. Sophomore Stepfan Taylor is the Cardinal's leading rusher, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He's gained 1,023 yards and scored 15 touchdowns for the season

So even though Virginia Tech has spent plenty of time talking about how to stop Luck in the build-up to Monday's Orange Bowl, it's the running game that has the Hokies most worried.

"They’re a power-football team," Wiles said. "They wanna run the ball, play-action the football. ... Hopefully the game goes such where we can get them where they have to pass the football. It’s always our goal, to try to make them one-dimensional. But nobody’s been able to do that all year."

Even Luck isn't simply a passing threat. He's gained 438 yards and averaged 8.6 yards per carry running the football.

This, it seems, would be a troubling fact for the Hokies, who have given up close to 149 yards per game on the ground this year. But after allowing 262 yards rushing in a win over Miami last month, Virginia Tech's run defense made a dramatic turnaround the final two weeks of the season.

On senior day, Virginia was only able to muster 70 yards rushing. Then in the ACC championship game, the Hokies allowed Florida State just 53 yards on the ground, even though they lost two starting linebackers for the second half. A focus this week will be producing a similar performance, despite the spotlight on Luck.

“I think we’ve grown up a lot as a defense down the stretch," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "Where I was more disappointed was we gave up a lot of big plays in the running game, but part of that was just the young guys knowing where to fit, the safeties not knowing where to fit properly, being caught out of position and those types of things and that was discouraging.

"But down the stretch, we felt we had to stop Virginia and that was their strength -- run the football -- and they couldn’t run the ball. We felt like needed to stop the run against Florida State and we did that. So that was encouraging from that standpoint, so maybe we’re starting to figure it out a little bit more."

By Mark Giannotto  | December 30, 2010; 9:22 AM ET
 
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