Orange Bowl 2012: Everything You Need to Know About West Virginia vs. Clemson
While the Orange Bowl has a matchup of two three-loss teams, it is also an early look at two teams who could be serious national contenders in 2012.
Clemson (10-3) surprised almost everyone with their quick start and two wins over Virginia Tech, including the thrashing of the Hokies in the ACC Championship Game.
With players like Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington, it is easy to see why there is a lot of excitement surrounding Clemson, as well as huge expectations.
West Virginia (9-3) had to fight to get into the BCS picture, but it was clear the Mountaineers struggled at times learning a new system.
First-year coach Dana Holgorsen has WVU in the Orange Bowl, and the Mountaineers hope to be playing in the Big 12 next season. Its new conference is glad to have another strong program like West Virginia coming on board. It wouldn't be a surprise to see WVU compete for the Big 12 title next season, especially with all of the talent that should return.
Don't underestimate the potential excitement the Orange Bowl could deliver on Jan. 4.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 4
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. EST
Where: Miami Gardens, Fla.
Site: Sun Life Stadium
TV: ESPN (Mike Tirico, John Gruden and Ron Jaworski)
Radio: ESPN Radio
Live Streaming: Clemson Tigers Radio Network
History of the Orange Bowl
The Orange Bowl dates back to 1935 when Bucknell shut out Miami 26-0, and from that day it has become one of college football's most storied games.
The 1964 game between Alabama and Texas was the first college bowl game televised in prime-time.
From 1968 until the formation of the BCS in 1998, the Orange Bowl usually featured a team from the old Big Eight Conference. Oklahoma has appeared in the Orange Bowl a record 18 times and has an all-time-best 12 victories.
Since 1996, the ACC champion has received an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl.
Some of the all-time greats to play in this game include Joe Namath, Johnny Rodgers, Brian Bosworth, Billy Sims, Leroy Selmon, Bernie Kosar, Charlie Ward, Tommie Frazier and Carson Palmer.
Clemson is playing in the Orange Bowl for the fourth time, and the Tigers' 22-15 victory over Nebraska in 1982 gave Danny Ford's team a National Championship. West Virginia has never played in the Orange Bowl.
How West Virginia Got Here
West Virginia was expected to be in this position before the season even began, as the Mountaineers were the Big East preseason favorite.
However, the Mountaineers' run to a BCS bowl was not smooth.
After opening the season 5-1, which included a home loss to No. 1 LSU, West Virginia was upset by Big East doormat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. It was the Orange's lone win in the conference, and Syracuse physically dominated WVU.
Two weeks later, the Mountaineers' hopes of winning the Big East appeared to be dashed with a tough loss to Louisville in Morgantown.
However, Dana Holgorsen rallied his team, and they closed with three consecutive victories to snag a share of the Big East crown. It wasn't easy, as WVU defeated Cincinnati 24-21, Pittsburgh 21-20 and South Florida 30-27.
Getting to 9-3 overall and 5-2 in the Big East wasn't pretty, but now Holgorsen has a chance to lead West Virginia to a 10-win season and the program's third BCS bowl win.
How Clemson Got Here
Clemson and Dabo Swinney were arguably the biggest stories of the first half of the season.
The Tigers rolled to an 8-0 record, and the talk was how this Clemson team was different from all of the others who had found a way to squander away their talent.
A late October game at Georgia Tech looked like a dangerous spot, and Clemson had an uninspired performance as Tech won 31-17.
The BCS National Championship talk died down after the loss, but you could forgive Clemson the one loss.
After a close 31-28 win over Wake Forest, the Tigers fell apart the next two games with losses to North Carolina State and South Carolina.
Clemson limped into the ACC Championship Game, but caught everyone off-guard (including Virginia Tech) and rolled to a 38-10 win in Charlotte to earn the berth in the Orange Bowl.
West Virginia's Best Win
West Virginia was 6-3 and 2-2 in the Big East, and the Mountaineers' season was spiraling out of control following an upset loss to Louisville at home.
Coach Dana Holgorsen publicly expressed his displeasure for his team's lack of energy on the sidelines.
Going on the road to play No. 23 Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium was going to be a breaking point for WVU—but instead of folding, the Mountaineers played inspired.
West Virginia blew a 17-7 halftime lead and fell behind 21-17 in the fourth quarter. Geno Smith, who threw for 372 yards, led a late drive to regain the lead.
But it wasn't until Eain Smith blocked a Cincinnati field goal attempt as time expired that West Virginia could celebrate.
The Mountaineers' defense played one of their best games of the season, which included a Julian Miller touchdown on a recovered fumble.
WVU went on to win its next two games to earn a three-way tie in the Big East race with Cincinnati and Louisville.
Clemson's Best Win
Clemson has a few legitimate games that could fit this category.
Early in the season, the Tigers had a treacherous run of Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
The victories against Auburn and FSU were huge, but the 23-3 win against No. 11 Virginia Tech tops the list because it was Clemson's first real road test of the season.
No one was really giving Clemson a shot in Blacksburg, Va., but Tajh Boyd led a serious charge on offense. The sophomore quarterback only completed 13-of-32 passes, but he made his completions count. Boyd finished with 204 yards and a touchdown.
Andre Ellington and Mike Bellamy also helped the offense with a rushing touchdown each.
Clemson's defense gave its best performance, as the Tigers held Virginia Tech to 258 total yards and no touchdowns—the first time that had happened at Lane Stadium since 1995.
Andre Branch was a beast for Clemson; he recorded three sacks and 11 tackles.
West Virginia's Bowl History
West Virginia has won just 13 times in 30 bowl appearances, including losses in its last two against ACC foes. The Mountaineers fell to North Carolina State 23-7 in last year's Champ Sports Bowl.
On a positive note, West Virginia is 2-0 when playing in BCS bowl games. The Mountaineers, who were coached by Rich Rodriguez, shocked SEC champ Georgia 38-35 in the 2006 Sugar Bowl. After Rodriguez left for Michigan, WVU pulled off another shocker by crushing Oklahoma 48-28 in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.
WVU has also played for two National Championships (in 1988 and 1993).
Led by dual-threat quarterback Major Harris, West Virginia rolled through the regular season to an 11-0 record and a spot in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl. Harris was injured early against Notre Dame, and the Irish won their last national title with a 34-21 win.
In 1993 and still coached by Don Nehlen, West Virginia once again went 11-0 and earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl against Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators. The Mountaineers scored first, but Florida reeled off the next 41 points for an easy win.
West Virginia won its first bowl game—the East-West Bowl—by downing Gonzaga 21-13 in 1922. The Mountaineers have been in a bowl game every year since 2002.
Clemson's Bowl History
Clemson is one game under .500 in bowl games at 16-17, which includes last year's 31-26 loss to South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Coach Dabo Swinney is 1-2 in bowl games, and his lone win came against Kentucky (21-13) in the 2009 Music City Bowl.
The Tigers are 2-1 in the Orange Bowl, including a 22-15 win over Nebraska in 1982, which gave Clemson a 12-0 record and the National Championship.
That is the last time Clemson played in the Orange Bowl and, for that matter, the last time the Tigers played in the equivalent of a BCS bowl.
Clemson's worst bowl loss came to Texas Tech 55-15 in the 2002 Tangerine Bowl.
The Tigers played their first bowl game in the 1939 Cotton Bowl and defeated Boston College 6-3. Clemson won its next two bowl games—the 1948 Gator Bowl and the1950 Orange Bowl.
Meet West Virginia's Best Player
Geno Smith is still learning Dana Holgorsen's offense, and everyone expects him to be exponentially better in 2012.
Well, Smith still had a monster season for the Mountaineers in 2011.
The junior quarterback ranks seventh in the nation with 331.5 yards per game, which includes a jaw-dropping 463 yards and two touchdowns against No. 1 LSU. He threw for four touchdowns against Norfolk State and Connecticut, and had three-touchdown performances against Bowling Green and Louisville.
Smith was intercepted only seven times, but he had two picks in three games against LSU, Syracuse and South Florida.
Smith is not a true dual-threat quarterback, but he's athletic enough to turn it up and get some yards with his feet when needed.
Meet Clemson's Best Player
Despite the emergence of quarterback Tajh Boyd, Clemson's freshman wide receiver is the most electric player in the ACC.
Sammy Watkins caught everyone's attention the first week, and he just kept getting better with each game.
Watkins opened with seven catches for 81 yards and a touchdown against Troy. His best game came against Auburn the third week of the season; he had 10 catches for 155 yards and two scores. Watkins missed the North Carolina State game, and his absence was felt, as Clemson was upset 37-13.
He also returned 26 kickoffs for 683 yards and one touchdown.
WVU's defensive backs will have their hands full trying to slow down Watkins.
West Virginia's Strengths and Weaknesses
If West Virginia's offense is clicking, then the Mountaineers will light up the Orange Bowl scoreboard.
As previously discussed, quarterback Geno Smith is one of the best in the nation, and he has a top-notch receiving corps led by Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Ivan McCartney and Devon Brown.
The offense runs into trouble when the running game doesn't contribute, though. That can be attributed to poor offensive line play and a group of young running backs.
On defense, WVU has improved as the season has played out, but the unit is still below what coordinator Jeff Casteel is used to coaching.
Defensive end Bruce Irvin became an every-down player, but offenses game-planned for him, and he didn't stockpile the sacks like he did last year. Nonetheless, he's still a difference-maker, along with defensive lineman Julian Miller.
WVU's defensive backs are good, but not great. Keith Tandy is the best, but he's not a shutdown guy. The Mountaineers will be without Terence Garvin, who is recovering from knee surgery.
WVU's special teams have been a problem for years. The punting game has been shaky all season, and the kick coverage has been spotty. However, placekicker Tyler Bitancurt showed improvement.
Clemson's Strengths and Weaknesses
Clemson has one of the nation's best passing and running games, so it's all about the offense.
Tajh Boyd had a breakout season with 31 touchdowns and 3,578 yards as the Tigers went 10-3. He benefited from having a solid running game led by Andre Ellington (1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns).
Clemson expected a lot from sophomore receiver DeAndre Hopkins (61 catches, 854 yards and four touchdowns) and junior tight end Dwayne Allen (47 catches, 571 yards and eight touchdowns).
But any time a freshman like Sammy Watkins steps up, then it's a major bonus. Watkins enters the Orange Bowl with 78 receptions, 1,159 yards and 11 touchdowns.
When the offense struggles, though, it usually means Boyd gets a little careless with the ball.
On defense, the Tigers have some talent, but the unit has allowed 26.2 points a game, which ranks 62nd in the nation. They've also given up 379.4 yards per game, which also ranks around middle of the pack nationally.
Punter Dawson Zimmerman is solid with a per punt average at 42, while kicker Chandler Catanzaro has made 80 percent of his field goals. Watkins can provide a spark returning kicks.
Clemson is also one of the nation's least-penalized teams.
West Virginia's Expected Starting Lineup
QB: Geno Smith
RB: Dustin Garrison (and Shawne Alston)
WR: Stedman Bailey
WR: Tavon Austin
WR: Tyler Urban
WR: J.D. Woods
LT: Don Barclay
LG: Jeff Braun
C: Joe Madsen
RG: Quinton Spain
RT: Curtis Feigt
DT: Julian Miller
NT: Jorge Wright
DE: Bruce Irvin
SLB: Doug Rigg
MLB: Jared Barber
WLB: Najee Goode
LCB: Keith Tandy
SS: Wes Tonkery
FS: Eain Smith
BS: Darwin Cook
RCB: Brodrick Jenkins
PK: Tyler Bitancurt
P: Corey Smith
KO: Corey Smith
LS: Cody Nutter
H: Michael Molinari
PR: Tavon Austin
KR: Tavon Austin (and Stedman Bailey)
Clemson's Expected Starting Lineup
QB: Tajh Boyd
RB: Andre Ellington (and FB Chad Diehl)
WR: Jaron Brown
WR: Sammy Watkins
WR: DeAndre Hopkins
TE: Dwayne Allen
LT: Phillip Price
LG: Brandon Thomas
C: Dalton Freeman
RG: Antoine McClain
RT: Landon Walker
DE: Malliciah Goodman
NG: Brandon Thompson
DT: Rennie Moore
BE: Andre Branch
SLB: Quandon Christian
MLB: Corico Hawkins
WLB: Jonathan Willard
CB: Coty Sensabaugh
SS: Xavier Brewer
FS: Rashard Hall
CB: Bashaud Breeland
PK: Chandler Catanzaro
P: Dawson Zimmerman
KO: Spencer Benton
LS (PK): Michael Sobeski
LS (P): Phillip Fajgenbaum
H: Dawson Zimmerman
PR: DeAndre Hopkins
KOR: Sammy Watkins and Jaron Brown
There are plenty to pick from in this game, including each team trying to stop the other's passing game.
But don't be surprised if Dana Holgorsen tries to establish a running game early to put pressure on Clemson's defense.
The Mountaineers have struggled to run the ball consistently all season, but Holgorsen has used freshman Dustin Garrison and junior Shawne Alston.
Garrison has rushed for 742 yards and six touchdowns, but a big chunk of his yards came against Bowling Green when he rushed for 291 yards and two scores.
Alston is WVU's short-yardage guy, and he has 10 touchdowns. He's a powerful runner and will be used to keep drives alive.
This approach will put pressure on Andre Branch and the linebackers, who would love nothing more than to be turned loose to go after Geno Smith.
While this matchup is more evenly matched than most believe, Clemson's skill players are a touch better than WVU's.
The Tigers have also performed better in big games this year, including a dominant performance in the ACC championship.
West Virginia also has issues on special teams that have hurt them all season, and the Mountaineers will struggle to stop Sammy Watkins on returns.
Final Score: Clemson 28, WVU 20