Clemson in the Orange Bowl: 5 Players You Need to Know
In the span of one year, Clemson has undergone a transformation from a mediocre 6-7 team to a full-fledged ACC Champion—their first such title since 1991.
Head coach Dabo Swinney, who wasn't expected to last through another bad year, has silenced his critics and shown that he has what it takes to coach this Clemson team by winning the ACC Championship in only his third full year as head coach.
Now, Swinney and his Clemson Tigers will head to their first BCS Bowl to face off against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
But we felt it necessary to inform college football fans about five Clemson players to be familiar with before settling down to watch these two teams go at it in Miami.
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Offenses can't be productive without competent quarterbacks to guide them. And for Clemson, their guy is first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd, the ACC Championship MVP.
After waiting for three years, Boyd finally got his opportunity to start, despite having to learn a completely new offense under first-year coordinator Chad Morris.
Boyd's hard work yielded great results. He threw for 3,578 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. While Boyd is not the best running threat, he is mobile enough to buy himself second chances in the pocket and strong enough to make throws downfield.
Boyd has had his rough patches this season (Clemson lost three of its last four regular season games), but he has given Clemson the competence they have needed under center.
It is largely because of Boyd that Clemson has the opportunity to bring home the Orange Bowl Trophy.
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Clemson running back Andre Ellington is the fuel to Clemson's running game and will be a key factor in this game going up against a questionable West Virginia defense that has been suspect against the run this season.
Ellington is a threat on the edge and is not afraid to run in between the tackles.
He has rushed for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season.
He is Clemson's most experienced running back. Though he has been hampered by nagging injuries most of the season, he is finally healthy—a full 100% for the Orange Bowl.
The offense will be counting heavily on Ellington to control the clock and the ball against the Mountaineers 3-3-5 defense.
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Despite Clemson's struggles on defense in 2011, they do have a marquee playmaker in defensive end Andre Branch.
Branch is a key player along the front four defensive line that quarterbacks and offensive linemen must be wary off, as Branch is capable of making a day horrible for offensive tackles and quarterbacks.
Leading Clemson in sacks and commanding double teams on the edge, Branch has the ability to make West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's night a bad one if the Mountaineers offensive line is unable to contain him.
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One of the most dynamic players in the country is none other than Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
And he's only a freshman.
Watkins is a threat to take it to the house at any time and has brought some much-needed help, production and explosiveness into this Clemson receiving corps.
Watkins leads the team with 1,153 receiving yards to go along with his 11 touchdowns. The much-desired deep threat the Tigers lacked in 2010, Watkins is also a threat on special teams as a kick returner, who can take it the distance.
Watkins is a special player that many will be hard pressed to contain, especially in Chad Morris's offense.
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It's hard not to mention the kind of weapons that Clemson has on offense, especially since they have been the story of the 2011 season. And tight end Dwayne Allen has been one of those weapons.
A matchup nightmare for linebackers and defensive backs alike, this 6'4," 255-pound tight end emerged into the playmaker coaches knew he could be and was one of Boyd's favorite targets.
Allen finished the regular season with 577 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. As a result, Allen won the John Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end.
Allen's dynamic ability to block and work out of the slot as a flex tight end will be a problem for the Mountaineers. His massive frame is too big for most defensive backs to handle; moreover, he is too athletic for linebackers to cover.
Allen is an NFL caliber tight end and, should he enter the NFL Draft (which is very likely at this point), he will probably be the first tight end taken.