MIAMI — Andrew Luck threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns, leading fifth-ranked Stanford past No. 12 Virginia Tech 40-12 in the Orange Bowl on Monday night.
Stanford (12-1) earned its first bowl win in 14 years and likely will end the season ranked in the top 5 for the first time since the unbeaten 1940 team finished No. 2. The Cardinal's success comes only four years after they went 1-11 and hired coach Jim Harbaugh to lead a turnaround.
Virginia Tech (11-3), playing in a bowl game for the 18th consecutive year, fell to 1-27 against top-5 teams.
Stanford threw a completion for a bizarre safety and blew two extra points, but overcame those mistakes with six plays gaining more than 30 yards. Two came in succession on a two-play, 97-yard "drive," and the Cardinal outscored Tech 27-0 in the second half.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
MIAMI (AP) – Two plays, 97 yards and 29 seconds.
That was all Stanford needed to take command of the Orange Bowl.
Andrew Luck's second touchdown pass of the game, a 41-yarder to Coby Fleener with 5:49 left in the third quarter, helped No. 5 Stanford take a 26-12 lead over No. 12 Virginia Tech entering the final period of the Orange Bowl on Monday night. That came moments after Stepfan Taylor broke loose on a 56-yard run on the first play after the Cardinal took the ball at their own 3-yard line.
It all added up to putting the Cardinal in position for their first top-5 finish in The Associated Press season-ending rankings since 1940.
Stanford scored twice in the third quarter, breaking open a game it led just 13-12 at halftime.
Believed to be the only two-way starter in major college football this season, Owen Marecic was leaving his mark on the Orange Bowl. He was victimized by Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor for a spectacular touchdown in the second quarter – then gained a measure of payback in the third, plowing in for a 1-yard run and a 19-12 lead.
Tyrod Taylor was intercepted by Stanford's Delano Howell on the next drive, and the Cardinal wasted no time before taking advantage on the Luck-to-Fleener score. Luck completed six of seven passes in the third quarter for 103 yards, in what very well may be his final college game: The Heisman Trophy runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton is projected as a potential No. 1 NFL draft pick if he leaves school.
He wasn't the only person on the Stanford sideline who may be leaving earlier than the Cardinal planned, of course.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh will have no shortage of job options when the Orange Bowl ends, and someone who'll help decide his future may have been standing on the Cardinal sideline. Former Stanford quarterback John Elway – expected to become the Denver Broncos' chief football executive later this week – was in Miami to serve as the honorary Cardinal captain.
And that prompted widespread speculation he would also spend time recruiting Harbaugh for Denver's coaching vacancy.
Harbaugh has been the presumed front-runner at Michigan for months if the Wolverines part with Rich Rodriguez. The San Francisco 49ers are believed to have Harbaugh atop their list, and even the Miami Dolphins – who have yet to announce coach Tony Sparano's future – may have interest as well.
"I just talk about the job that I have and none others, and that's the way I've always handled it in the past, and it's worked well," Harbaugh said Sunday in his final media availability before the game. "The way I handle it now and in the future – just focus and concentrate on the task at hand."
Same went for Luck, who also threw a 25-yard scoring pass to Zach Ertz midway through the second quarter, putting the Cardinal back on top after a dazzling effort by Tyrod Taylor.
It went into the books as an 11-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to David Wilson, but will be remembered as anything but ordinary. Facing third down, Taylor got the ball on a shotgun snap, dropped back five steps and saw no one open, so he ran diagonally left to avoid Stanford's Thomas Keiser.
Taylor stutter-stepped to avoid a tackle, then pirouetted away from Marecic to keep the play alive, all while teetering dangerously close to the sideline. He fired the ball toward the end zone, where Jarrett Boykin was flanked by three Stanford defenders, and Wilson – who was suspended for the opening quarter after a curfew violation – dove into the picture for a catch that gave Virginia Tech a 9-7 lead.
Thanks to Luck, it was short-lived.
He coolly took the Cardinal 79 yards on eight plays on the next Stanford drive. The point-after try was blocked by Virginia Tech's John Graves, the second big play the Hokies' defensive tackle made in the opening half.
Graves also had a hand in getting the Hokies on the scoreboard with 59 seconds left in the first quarter. Facing third-and-10 at the Stanford 5, Luck dropped back, scrambled to his left and was getting pulled down by Graves. Trying desperately to avoid the safety, Luck threw the ball – only to have it deflected by Antoine Hopkins, the ricochet going nearly all the way to the goal post, where it was caught by Stanford offensive lineman Derek Hall about 9 yards deep in the end zone for a Virginia Tech safety.
Chris Hazley's 37-yard field goal with 4 seconds left in the half got Virginia Tech within 13-12, again with Taylor providing the fireworks. The Hokies had the ball at their own 20 with 47 seconds left, but Tyrod Taylor had a 19-yard run followed by a 32-yard pass to Boykin to get within Hazley's range.
Jeremy Stewart's 60-yard touchdown run – a carry twice as long as any other in the little-used senior's career – gave the Cardinal an early lead. Stewart came into the game with 13 carries for 38 yards before running through a big hole on the left side of the line and going untouched into the end zone for his second touchdown of the season.
The Cardinal may have been a surprise team at the Orange Bowl but given the way this season started, so was Virginia Tech.
The Hokies opened 0-2, the second of those losses a defeat to lower-division James Madison. They've gone 11-0 since, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship for their third trip to the Orange Bowl in four seasons. But Virginia Tech came into the Orange Bowl with a 1-26 record against teams in the top 5 of The AP poll, including 0-22 away from home.