It was a tale of two halves.
At halftime, the No. 4 Stanford Cardinal and the No. 13 Virginia Tech Hokies were locked in a 13-12 grudge match in the Discover Orange Bowl in a game that had all the markings of a classic defensive struggle.
It's unsure what Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh told his team went they went into the locker room with a one point lead - maybe he let his players know that there's nothing to the rumors that he could be heading for an NFL job in short order, maybe he said the opposite - but whatever it was, the Cardinal came out possessed and put on a clinic on both sides of the ball, running up 27 unanswered points en route to a 40-12 victory.
Andrew Luck, the Cardinal's star quarterback and the probable first pick in the 2011 NFL draft, showcased all of his talents on this night, throwing for 287 yards and four touchdowns and only one interception. He made precision throws, kept plays alive with his legs and marshaled his team's drives down the field with cool efficiency, leading them to their first BCS bowl victory under the watchful eye of NFL Hall of Fame signal caller John Elway, who took in the action from the sidelines.
It was a performance reminiscent of Elway, the former Stanford quarterback who is expected to become the Denver Broncos' chief football executive this week. He served as an honorary captain, and ex-Stanford QB Jim Plunkett was also on hand to lend support.
The Cardinal (12-1) likely will end the season ranked in the top 5 for the first time since the unbeaten 1940 team finished No. 2. Their success comes only four years after they went 1-11 and hired Harbaugh as coach 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.
Coby Fleener caught scoring passes of 41, 58 and 38 yards from Luck, all in the final 21 minutes. Zach Ertz had a 25-yard TD reception, Jeremy Stewart scored on a 60-yard run and Stepfan Taylor added a 56-yard run. Fullback-linebacker Owen Marecic scored on a 1-yard run and had a sack.
Luck went 18 for 23 and was chosen the Orange Bowl most valuable player. Fleener had six catches for 173 yards for the Cardinal, who outgained Tech 534-288.
The game might have been the last at Stanford for Luck and Harbaugh. Luck, a sophomore, is projected as the likely first pick in the NFL draft if he turns pro this year. Harbaugh is expected to be courted by NFL teams and perhaps alma mater Michigan after leading the Cardinal to a school-record win total.
Stanford began to pull away by going the length of the field in 29 seconds in the third quarter. After Delano Howell made an interception at the 3 to snuff a Tech threat, Taylor busted loose and reached Hokies territory. On the next play, Luck threw deep to Fleener for a 26-12 lead.
Luck also threw for a safety that cut Stanford's lead to 7-2. His pass was batted backward by Antoine Hopkins to 303-pound offensive tackle Derek Hall, who caught the ball rather than knocking it down and was tackled in the end zone.
The Hokies' offense had trouble scoring, though. Tyrod Taylor threw for 222 yards but was held to 22 yards rushing, and Tech twice came away empty after driving inside the Stanford 35.
Taylor's scrambling skills helped the Hokies score their only touchdown. On third and goal he rolled left, retreated, spun 180 degrees and threw to David Wilson for an 11-yard score.
Tyrod Taylor moved the Hokies 60 yards in the final 47 seconds of the first half to set up a 37-yard field goal by Chris Hasley, but they netted only 109 yards in the second half.