Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio:
JASON ALPERT: Coach, you've been in town a few days now. Talk about your preparation and how things are going for your team getting ready for the Discover Orange Bowl.
COACH FANGIO: Things are going good. We really like our practice facilities and the hotel we're staying at. We did a lot of our preparations back at Stanford and we're kind of repeating that process here and trying to have a normal game.
Q. When you got the job, since it had been so long since you have been in college, been a college coach, I guess you never really coached technically in college or whatever, how did you go about kind of preparing for the differences in the game in the months from February to say when training camp started to kind of re-familiarize yourself with it?
COACH FANGIO: I watched a lot of tape. You know, I did -- got as much tape as I could and watched -- tried and focus on the offenses that are different than you see in pro football, you know, particularly the spread offenses, the one that features the option game, all the bubble screens, kind of studied extensively the types of offenses and plays that we don't get in the NFL that you get in college football because it's a lot different.
You know, in college football, as I said to some guys, there's a lot of formations that you can use in college football that are illegal in the NFL, so 24 or 26 years in pro football I never saw them. So I focused on that. Those plays that are being run out of formations that you can't use in the NFL, focused on the option game, focused on the spread offense, those types of things. So a lot of film work.
And talking to coaches. I visited some coaches around the country that I'm friends with and utilized the coaches on our staff.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about Tyrod Taylor? You've faced running quarterbacks before this year, but I'm just wondering how does this guy stack up with what you've seen and how do you plan to contain him?
COACH FANGIO: Well, he's tough to contain. You know, he's obviously the ACC Player of the Year with good reason. Very athletic, strong throwing arm, you know, playmaker. When you watch him play, he's like the point guard of a great basketball team; the guy just makes plays many different ways.
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.
Q. I have a question, given all your pro experience, about Andrew Luck. Whenever he does end up as a pro, can you just talk about what sort of quarterback he is, give a little scouting report on him, and will he be a good pro quarterback?
COACH FANGIO: Oh, I definitely think when the time comes, when he deems the time to come out, he's got a great future ahead of himself in the NFL. He's got good size, got good athletic ability, and then I think most importantly as a quarterback position he's got great intangibles. He's a leader. He's got great feel for the game of football. He's an accurate passer, which is extremely important.
I think he's got a great demeanor to play the quarterback position in the NFL. He doesn't get flustered. Tremendous work ethic. You know, you can go on and on and on. The guy has got what it takes to succeed at the next level in every aspect.
Whether he needs another year of college to help him prepare for that, that's a decision him and his family are going to have to make. And you can draw comparisons between himself and Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning knew he was going to be the No. 1 draft pick coming out and decided to go back to Tennessee for one more year. The guy in St. Louis, Bradford, did it and had a shoulder injury. Didn't seem to slow him down. It's a tough decision for Andrew, I'm sure, but when he does come out, I'll be shocked if he's not a very good NFL quarterback.
Q. A lot of Virginia media are writing stories about Harbaugh this week. Could you give kind of a capsule glance at him from your perspective, what's he like with his staff and what kind of a team manager is he?
COACH FANGIO: Well, he does a great job managing the team, managing the staff. Jim is kind of a guy that lets you do your job. He's not a micromanager by any stretch of the imagination. And maybe because for the most part things have gone well defensively. That's the way I see it. If we were having a rough year, maybe I'd see it differently.
He's not a "micromanager" type of guy at all, knows the game of football, both as a player and as a coach. I think one thing Jim has done different than a lot of ex-players that want to get into the coaching profession, Jim knew that he needed to develop as a coach just as he needed to develop as a player when he was going through that process, and when he was done playing, he became a quality control guy with the Raiders, took a 1-AA or Division 2 coaching job at San Diego University and then worked his way to Stanford.
He wasn't one of those guys that said I played in the NFL for 15 years, I'm ready to coach at the highest of levels and be a head coach. He knew he needed to develop, and I don't think he's ever lost that work ethic.
Q. As a relative newcomer to this program, what can you say about how far it has come so quickly? Do you hear horror stories about the old days four or five years ago? What do you hear about what it was like then and what would you say about the job Harbaugh has done to bring it so far so quickly?
COACH FANGIO: Not having been here, I can't answer that question totally, but I think the one thing you could say from what I've heard and the feel I get, he's changed the culture there. Where Stanford before was maybe what -- I think it was too easy to give in to what Stanford was expected to have football-wise and what type of players Stanford could have and develop, and he changed that culture. They're playing good, hard-nosed, tough football, coaching them tough, being demanding, expecting them to do and play just like the players at Virginia Tech are expected to play.
So he brought the program, I think, some respectability and put a lot of accountability on the players and was demanding to them to get out of the funk, whatever that was, that Stanford football was in. And I think too many guys in the past probably let themselves be dragged into that.
Q. Do you hear much about the old days?
COACH FANGIO: Not really, not really. I hear a lot of talk about them being 1-11 in, I guess it was '05, and I don't hear the horror stories about it. I think he's just changed the culture. There's a lot that goes in with coaching Stanford that's different than any other BCS school, and you've got to overcome that and you've got to accept it, overcome it and make it a rallying point and not a negative.
Q. To sort of build on that point, Frank Beamer talked yesterday about how this game features two programs that were really close to maybe even something more this year. Is there any sense of looking back as to what could have been, or given how far the program has come so fast, are you guys just ecstatic to be here?
COACH FANGIO: Well, yes, we're ecstatic to be here at 11-1. But at the same time we were beating Oregon at halftime and as a team let it get away in the second half of that game, which I think was our fifth game of the season, which is our only blemish, and they're playing for the National Championship.
Virginia Tech is much the same way. They're 11-2. They make one more first down in the fourth quarter against Boise, I guarantee they don't lose the next game to James Madison, and then you've got a BCS debate of three undefeated teams and which two to take for the championship team. So it was right there for them, too, just like it was for us. We lost it in the second half of the Oregon game; they lost it by not getting one more first down late in the fourth quarter and giving up that late drive to Boise.
So I think there is a lot of similarities. Both of us are going to be happy and ecstatic where we're at, but you'll always think about that what-if.
Q. To build on what you said about Taylor earlier and being a great point guard, sort of that mentality, do you worry more about him as a scorer, as a runner, or as a distributor?
COACH FANGIO: Both. Obviously the running is the stuff that you really worry about because a lot of it comes on passing plays. You know, with a guy like this, you always have to defend two plays when they call a pass. You've got to defend the passing play they've called in their huddle and the route and protection, and then you have to defend the play that he might create on his own. It does cause you problems any time you're dealing with a quarterback like this, and they do run the option game with him, also, so that's a major deal there.
I think it's both. I mean, he throws -- I've talked to a couple ACC coaches. He throws the ball better than I think most people give him credit for. That was both the sentiments of the coach or two that I've talked to from the ACC and my feelings after watching the tape, also.
Q. You mentioned trying to stop Tyrod when he uses his legs, but they also have three talented running backs that could start on most teams. How do you plan on defending those three different guys with their different styles?
COACH FANGIO: A lot of hope. No, their backs are very good. I don't know that there's another team in the country that has three backs of this quality, and I think all three of those backs will be in the NFL someday.
What's impressive about their backs is they run hard, they've got the speed to bounce it outside but yet they're inside to tackle runners also. These guys move the pile after contact. You'll see them -- the contact made, coming at the 25-yard line, but the guy doesn't miss the tackle but all of a sudden the ball is at the 29 if they're coming out of their own end or it's at the 21 if they're going in. These guys bleed you for the extra three, four yards a lot of times when it's not really a missed tackle but they're dragging the guy three or four yards.
To me that's the mark of good running backs that have been well coached to run hard with their pad level and their intensity.
They do have some different styles. No. 4 will bounce it outside more so than the other guys, but the other guys will bring it out there, too.
They've got depth and quality at the running back position I don't think many teams have in college football.
Q. Just to kind of cram two questions in here, just a quick follow-up on the coaches you visited around the country, who were some of those guys? And then as a second question, it looks like you guys play a base 3-4 but in reading some stories it's flexible kind of into a 4-3. Could you talk about some of the adjustments? I'm not sure what the guys played last year, some of the adjustments from the scheme they played into the differences into the scheme that you play?
COACH FANGIO: Some of the biggest adjustments they had to go through was position changes for some of them. In particular Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser were defensive ends in the previous system, and they became our outside linebackers in the 3-4. That was a major difference for them. They had two defensive tackles in the previous system; now we have one nose guard and two ends. We basically play with three defensive tackles rather than two tackles and two ends.
But to address that it's kind of developed into a 4-3, it's not developed into a 4-3. What's happened is you're playing all these three and four wide receiver offenses, we're in a lot of nickel and dime defenses, which a nickel and dime defense in many ways is just a 4-3 with DBs playing two of the linebacker positions. So we've played a lot of nickel and dime, five, six DB backs just like most teams do, so that's why probably the teams are saying they're really not a 3-4. We don't play a lot of 3-4 against three and four wide receiver sets, but we do some. So we're a 3-4 base, but we play as much nickel and dime as we need to.
And probably if you were to sit down and do the numbers this year, I haven't looked at it yet, but we probably were in more nickel or dime or sub-defense than we were in base just because of the nature of the offenses we've seen. And the scores of our game are because of fourth quarters when we've had some large leads.
Q. And some of the coaches that you visited around the country to familiarize yourself?
COACH FANGIO: I visited with Bo Pelini out at Nebraska who's been a longtime friend of mine from when he had a couple years in the NFL. I visited with a bunch of guys on the phone. I visited with some guys at the 1-AA level because they deal with it a lot at that level, so it wasn't beyond me to go visit there. I visited with the -- last year the national champion, Villanova, because those guys had to deal with those types of spread offenses, even more at that level than at the I-A level. It's good to hear thoughts and different ideas. I didn't go to any place looking to find things to put in, just learned more about it.
Q. Is Taylor a possible NFL quarterback?
COACH FANGIO: I've said that.
Q. And what would he need to do?
COACH FANGIO: You know, like a lot of the "athletic" quarterbacks, the Vince Youngs, Tebow, another name or two that's come out there, those guys, they've got to work on being more of a pocket passer and developing accuracy and timing that goes with being a competitive NFL quarterback. But I think this guy definitely has the tools to do that. He's just going to have to develop. Will he be Vince Young who's had some success? Will he be Pat White who came down here and right now I think he's playing baseball, right, from West Virginia? There's all different varying degrees of success stories in the NFL with quarterbacks such as these.
But I think this guy has got talent and some gifts that are going to intrigue some people.
Q. Just kind of based on only a reading a story about you and the defense, it sounds like the players kind of have a healthy fear of you. Is that by design, or is that something you came in trying to establish, that authority, or do you think that just happened maybe because it's one voice as opposed to having co-defensive coordinators as they had last year?
COACH FANGIO: Maybe that last point is one thing. I don't think -- you know, they were hungry for improvement. They had an 8 and 5 season last year. Many people thought if they were better on defense that it would have been better, more like what they got this year. So they were hungry for improvement. I think they were intrigued by my past experiences. And I think they -- any fear, and I don't think that word is a good word because these guys don't fear me, I think they respect, but any fear they felt was self-inflicted, I didn't inflict it on them.
But I think we just developed over time. We had a very good spring practice session. Going against our own offense in Andrew Luck, which is a really good offense, we more than held our own against those guys in the spring. Likewise in the fall training camp. And then started off well.
So you've got to do good things to develop confidence. You're not going to just get it in a meeting room or on a practice field. So I think it just developed.
Q. You've drawn some comparisons to players and such, but looking at Virginia Tech's offensive style, do they compare favorably to sort of what they try to do and how they do it to anybody you guys have faced this year?
COACH FANGIO: Yeah, they're kind of a cross between a conventional offense, you know, quarterback-under-center, run, play-action passes, just like any NFL team or more -- like our offense is. But then at a moment's notice they'll be into the gun and running the gun reads and the option games and the fly sweeps. To me they've got a really good college offense, one that I think is kind of maybe the best to be in. It's conventional but yet it's got the ability to go to the option game, the spread game, the fly sweeps, to make you prepare for a lot of things.
You might get a game where they're just going to try and hammer the ball at you and challenge you physically or you might get a game where they're going to spread you out and run a bunch of the option stuff. They give you a lot to prepare for, and I think they've done a great job offensively. They're very talented.
Q. Is there a guy on there that -- you've talked about Taylor and the tailbacks. Is there any other individual that you're keenly aware of who will be focused on as you've looked at tape and prepared for that?
COACH FANGIO: Obviously it's a quarterback/running back driven offense, but their tight end is an integral part to what they do, also. He's a good blocker. They like to throw him the ball, particularly down in the red zone, but I think the receivers as a unit are very solid. You don't score over 40 points as many times as these guys have, I think it's at least five or six, without talented players and a good offensive scheme.
They're well-rounded and they've got balance. They've got balance both from the run-pass standpoint and they've got balance from the schematic standpoint. They try and run a conventional offense and then more of the fancy college offenses that everybody is running these days.
Q. Do you see any specific match-ups with your guys that you guys feel are key to stopping that kind of attack?
COACH FANGIO: I mean, the biggest thing that's going to be for us is how well do we tackle. Are those running backs making us miss, are they dragging us for that extra three or four that I was talking about, or are we getting them down before that happens, how are we handling the quarterback in open spaces, are we getting him down, or is he making us miss and turning it into a schoolyard game where he really excels. To me it's going to come down to tackling. I know that's a boring answer, but these guys, their running backs and quarterbacks are so talented that if we don't have our best tackling game, we could be in for a long night. It could be they're going to score a lot of points.
Sophomore LB Shayne Skov
On facing Tyrod Taylor:
"He does a good job of using his legs. I think Virginia Tech's run game drives off what he is capable of doing and the intangibles he has at quarterback. We obviously have to have some awareness of where he is in the pocket and try to keep him in the pocket, but we are definitely going to [bring] pressure the same way we have all year."
On the feeling of coming up short of the BCS National Championship Game:
"We don't do that. At one point we were up two touchdowns against Oregon, but it?s a part of college football. You have to take the loss. We certainly are happy with where we are right now, but we have our sights at becoming 12-1.
On the rumors of Coach Harbaugh leaving being a distraction:
"We all came here for our own reasons. We are here at this bowl playing for each other. We invested too much to let something like that distract us. I'm sure coach will be back next season.
On the Stanford football program's turnaround:
"The way the thing has been forged is through hard work. Our practices are brutal. [Coach Harbaugh] uses every single minute of practice. When we are out there, it is not about the books or out-smarting people. We are in pads every day of the week year round."
Senior CB Richard Sherman
On Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor:
"He presents about every problem you can have facing a quarterback. He makes your front seven adjust to him. He has great receivers and he can get the ball anywhere. He can be on a dead sprint toward the sidelines and throw the ball downfield on a whim."
On the Virginia Tech running backs:
"You definitely can't forget about them. At the end of the day, if nothing else is working for them, they will go back to what they know. They have a stable of backs who know how to read [the holes]. They have different strengths about them. They have speed, they have power and then a combination of both. It is going to be difficult to stop [them]."
On the turnaround of the program:
"It has been amazing to watch. I have been here when we were 1-11 and didn't have much to say about us. Now were 11-1 and doing great. We're in a BCS game and we're going to do our best to win it. It's been amazing to watch the people grow up and work."
On Coach Harbaugh's influence on the program:
"When Coach Harbaugh came, he brought an energy, enthusiasm and a winning attitude. He made people believe that winning is possible anywhere and don't let the academic standards or anything bring you down or make you think you can't win.
On the Stanford team embodying Coach Harbaugh's personality:
"It is very infectious. He comes to practice energized and fired up every day, 365 days a year. It is hard not to be fired up with him. It is hard not to catch that energy and get out there and go crazy. It's a controlled enthusiasm.
On Andrew Luck:
"He's a great quarterback. You can run the perfect coverage, and he will find a way to thread it in there. When he gets to the next level, it will be amazing. I don't think people realize how good he is. Everybody is saying he is a first-round pick. If there is any higher than the first pick, he would go there. He's the best player out there. He's a quiet guy. You will never meet a more humble human being in your life. We will be in the locker room watching SportsCenter. They will start talking about him he will turn the TV off or make them change the channel.
Junior CB Michael Thomas
On Coach Harbaugh:
"You see it in Coach Harbaugh: he really wants to be out there playing. He knows what it takes because he's been there and done that before and he knows if he gets his players to play at that level where they're playing like they're the most physical person out there regardless of who you're up against, and you believe that and practice like that, when you get out, there it's like second nature to you."
On what Stanford's defense needs to do to win:
"We need to do what we do. We've been playing our game all season; playing top-down, not giving up explosive plays. We need to contain Tyrod Taylor, tackle running backs, not give receivers yards after the catch, play our game, and I feel we'll win the game."
Senior NT Sione Fua
On the BCS:
"I think it's good the way it is right now. I know a lot of people are in favor of a playoff system, but how it is right now works well. The computer system takes into account strength of schedule and a lot of other variables to be able to put teams in their rankings. With a playoff system, there would only be one big game, whereas this way the BCS games and all other bowl games is exciting for more teams."
On his bowl experience in Miami:
"It's been great. Since we landed, the BCS community has really taken care of us and have been very hospitable. They've really shown us a good time, and the people of the city really know we're here. They're all excited and we've seen a lot of Stanford fans around town. We've had time to get our work done and also have fun and see the town."
On winning the battle in the trenches:
"A big difference about our Stanford team is that we're big up front. We run the ball. That's what we do. We pound the ball 60-70 percent of the time; we take it right at you. A lot of teams in the Pac-10 are switching to spread offense. We're old school, hard-nose football. I think that's going to be a change for [Atlantic Coast Conference] football because they run similar spread offenses, but it's going to be a good game for us and a big challenge for us up front because they've got big offensive and defensive lines."
Junior LB Chase Thomas
On the transition from defensive end to linebacker:
"The biggest challenge was learning how to play in so much space. Last year, I had my hand down and I didn't have too many dropping or coverage responsibilities, and this year I have. I worked really hard in the offseason on my flexibility with my hips and making plays in the open field, and Coach Fangio has really showed me a lot of techniques. It's really benefited me this year."
On Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio:
"We joke around and call him „Lord Fangio? because we think he's some kind of evil genius, scheming up different ways to attack an offense. It's real exciting to come in each week to see what new plays he has installed for a different type of offense."
On how Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio has improved the defense:
"[He makes] sure everyone flies to the ball every snap and [makes] sure we're in the right place at the right time while playing technically sound. I can't say enough for our other defensive coaches; they've done an incredible job."
On facing Stanford QB Andrew Luck in practice:
He frustrates you all day in practice, making the tightest throws you've ever seen in your life. And it's like, „how did he get that one in there?? "
On stopping Virginia Tech running backs and Tyrod Taylor:
"We try to take the same approach to everyone. Make sure we tackle on every play. The trouble is when we don't, when you put a shoulder into them and not wrap up – that's when they bounce off and use their breakaway speed to take it to the house. If they try to take the edges, so we've got to maintain our gaps and make sure everyone is in the right spot."
Junior S Delano Howell
On the bowl experience:
"Honestly, there's a lot for us as far as attractions and events. The more you are able to experience what you guys [at the Discover Orange Bowl] have to offer, the better. I think the bowl system is fun."
On if Stanford believed it could be a BCS team early on:
"Yes, most definitely, with the enthusiasm that the coaches and the players had. We knew we had a lot of potential, and I was excited to be a part of that."
On the turnaround at Stanford in his time there:
"I could see things changing as far as the mindset. We became more driven to play and play harder."
On the future of Stanford:
"I think over the past few years we've created a tradition. We have a different mindset and a different work ethic that has brought us really far, and that's what brought us to a BCS bowl game."
On Coach Harbaugh's coaching message:
"It's about a sense of pride and having no fear of another team. You have to expect to win every game."
On Virginia Tech being similar to Oregon:
"They're similar to Oregon as far as their schemes and athleticism."
On the three keys to victory:
"Trust each other, be disciplined and have fun."
Junior LB Thomas Keiser
On being in a BCS bowl game:
"It's great to be in a BCS game. We're in one of the top bowl games in the nation, and we couldn't ask for anything else."
On what he noticed while watching film on Virginia Tech:
"They're a very good team. It was a rough start for them, but they went on to win, I believe, 11 games in a row. They've definitely impressed us on film. They're a talented team."
On the key to stopping Virginia Tech:
"From a defensive perspective, their offense is very good. Being able to stop the run is where we can get out of third down and get off the field."
On the different styles of the Virginia Tech running backs:
"I think it's all about tackling with those guys. They have different styles but the one characteristic they all have is that they are able to break tackles."
Senior DE Brian Bulcke
On having an 11-1 record, but losing to Oregon:
"I'm a competitor. Of course we would love the opportunity to play them again, but, unfortunately, we won't get that opportunity."
On how team as evolved since his arrival:
"We ended up switching our scheme this year to a 3-4, and I think that has made a lot of difference. Our coach, at the beginning of the game, just loves being around his players, and that's made a big difference."
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