The Mountaineers (9-3) finished the regular season ranked 17th in total offense and 19th in scoring offense averaging nearly 35 points per game. Eight times in 2011 West Virginia scored 30 points or more in a game, including a season-high 55 points in a 45-point victory over Bowling Green.
Clemson, too, has put up points in bunches, averaging 34 points per game and scoring more than 30 nine times this season. The Tigers (10-3) scored 115 points in back-to-back ACC victories over Maryland and North Carolina and they also put more than 35 points on the scoreboard against Auburn, Florida State and Boston College.
Obviously, both teams have the ability to light up the scoreboard, but West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen believes the team that can stop the other team is likely the one to come out on top in the end.
“Offensively, that’s what people want to see but the only way you can win a game is if, defensively, you stop people,” Holgorsen said. “I think we’re pretty good defensively and I think Clemson is pretty good defensively and the one that gets the most stops and the one that creates the most turnovers is probably going to be the one that wins the game.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney agrees.
“You never know, and especially when you have a month off, oftentimes the defenses are sometimes a little ahead early in the game, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t some points scored in this one,” Swinney said. “I don’t think it will be a 6-3 ballgame like maybe some of the other games around. This one should be an exciting game.”
Indeed, it should be.
The Orange Bowl could end up being one of the more appealing bowl matchups this year. The Tigers have a dynamic attack led by sophomore quarterback Tahj Boyd and true freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Boyd owns the Clemson single-season record for touchdown passes and has thrown for more than 340 yards in a game four times this year, also a Tiger record.
And Watkins is one of college football’s most electric performers, becoming just the second player in Clemson history to produce more than 2,000 all-purpose yards in a season. C.J. Spiller was the first to do it two years ago.
Watkins also broke Rod Gardner’s school record of 1,084 yards receiving set in 1999 when former Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez was running Tommy Bowden’s offense.
Watkins, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder, is very similar in size and explosive playmaking ability to other recent big-time ACC receivers West Virginia has faced in North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks and Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson. Coincidentally, both of those guys lit up West Virginia’s secondary.
The Mountaineers also possess some big-league playmakers in junior Tavon Austin and sophomore Stedman Bailey. The two have combined to catch 156 passes for 2,260 yards and 15 touchdowns in 12 regular season games this year and Austin, like Watkins, has more than 2,000 all-purpose yards to his credit this season.
Bailey and Austin became the first duo in school history to record 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the same year, and just two others have done it ever.
Quarterback Geno Smith is 22 yards shy of becoming the first 4,000-yard passer in school history and he only needs 47 more yards to eclipse Brian Brohm’s Big East record of 4,024 passing yards set in 2007. Smith is completing 65 percent of his pass attempts and has an outstanding 25-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Boyd has also been solid handling the ball with a 30-to-10 TD-to-INT rate although Swinney says turnovers were what got Clemson in trouble in late-season losses to Georgia Tech, NC State and South Carolina.
“The first eight games of the year we had six total turnovers and was one of the least penalized teams in the country,” Swinney explained. “Then the last four games of our season, we had 12 turnovers and we lost three of those games. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
“We were getting a lot of foolish penalties, and that affects everything,” he said. “It affects your confidence and you start to try and do too much.”
West Virginia went through its difficult stretch in mid-October to early November when it lost winnable conference games against Syracuse and Louisville. Holgorsen admits the Louisville game was one the Mountaineers let slip away.
“Since then we kind of challenged the guys to get a little bit more excited about playing the game and coming together when you face adversity like that,” he said. “You’ve got to rally the troops and get everybody focused on what’s important, which is getting excited about playing the football.”
Getting excited for one of the best football teams in the country in one of the most prestigious bowl games in college football shouldn’t be an issue, says Holgorsen.
“Playing the game the magnitude of the Discover Orange Bowl, that should get them ready to play so the one thing you don’t have to do is get them fired up to play the game,” Holgorsen said.
Don't forget, tickets are available through the Mountaineer Ticket Office by logging on to WVUGAME.com or by calling the ticket office toll-free at 1-800-WVU GAME.
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