Clemson to the Orange Bowl: A Guide to the Matchup vs. West Virginia
It's been 20 long years, but the Tigers finally made it back.
After four weeks of disappointment, doubt and draining confidence, the Tigers reverted back to the first eight weeks of the season. They defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies 38-10 in an ACC Championship rematch.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd looked as good as he has for most of the season, running back Andre Ellington continues to look healthier than ever and most of all, the defense played unarguably its best game all season when it counted.
Head coach Dabo Swinney has this team and the fan base believing: He has completely turned this team around from 2010. This is nowhere near the 6-7 team Clemson Tiger fans had to endure last year.
Swinney and the team overcame great odds to win this football game. And they did it with a large number of freshmen on the active roster.
With this victory, the Tigers are heading to the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida to face the West Virginia Mountaineers in what will surely be an interesting match up for these two teams.
Orange Bowl Info
The BCS Discover Orange Bowl is played in Miami, Florida at Sun Life Stadium.
The Bowl game will be played on January 4, 2012 at 8:00 p.m., with the ACC Champion receiving the winning bid to play in this bowl game. This bowl game was formerly known as the "Orange Bowl' and the "FedEx Orange Bowl."
The game will be broadcast by ESPN this year, and has been broadcast by both ABC and NBC in the past.
Clemson's Strength: Wide Receiver
Clemson's strength all season has been the reliability of their young receiving corps.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd has had plenty of options to throw to—from receivers Deandre Hopkins, Jaron Brown and NFL-caliber tight end Dwayne Allen, to freshmen sensation receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins has emerged as Clemson's biggest downfield threat at receiver.
Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries and Charone Peake have also made key catches with limited time on the field, and are ready and waiting should any of the main receivers go down for any reason. Tight end Brandon Ford is also a receiving threat off the line and in the slot position.
Clemson's Strength: Quarterback
Since the first game of the season, Tajh Boyd has been the kind of quarterback Clemson has needed.
Even having to learn a new offense, Boyd surprised everyone with an 8-0 start, but faced adversity as a starter when the Tigers went to lose three of their last four games. But Boyd found his way back on track against Virginia Tech.
Boyd has shown himself to be a good quarterback, but at the same time, he still has some improving to do as a starter in terms of reading coverages.
Overall, he has done well in his first year with a new offensive coordinator.
Clemson's Weakness: Linebacker
Despite Clemson's great defensive play against the Hokies, their linebackers remain a questionable unit going into this game. Though, they definitely took a positive step forward against the Hokies by neutralizing the NCAA-leading rusher in David Wilson.
Clemson linebackers do not always take the best angles. They do not always make the best decisions in coverage, and they're not aggressive enough in filling the holes to stop the run.
Against a Mountaineers team with a mobile quarterback, these linebackers could have some trouble if they don't stay disciplined with their assignments.
WVU Weakness: Rushing
West Virginia—despite being one of the best teams in the Big East—is not very adept at running the football.
The Mountaineers rank 100th in the nation with an average of 117.8 yards per game. Running back Dustin Garrison is their leader in rushing with 742 yards on the season. When compared with Clemson's own Andre Ellington, the Mountaineers are at a disadvantage, if it comes down to winning the game on the ground.
WVU Strength: Passing Attack
Under first year head coach Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has become an all-passing, all the time football team. The Mountaineers rank ninth in passing with 341.8 yards per game, and are touting two 1000-yard receivers to go along with quarterback Geno Smith's 3978 passing yards and 25 touchdowns.
Clemson's young defensive secondary will face a huge test against this pass-first offense.
How Clemson Got Here
Under first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris, a first-year quarterback and a host of young talent on both sides of the ball, Clemson's offense exploded through the first eight weeks, beating three ranked teams in three consecutive weeks in Auburn, FSU and Virginia Tech.
Clemson did, however, hit a stumbling block the last four weeks of the season, losing three of their last four games. But, they clinched the ACC Atlantic Division with a last second win over Wake Forest.
After a disappointing 34-13 loss against rival South Carolina, Clemson looked as though they were not playing in a championship game next week. But, they showed up and won the game in style 38-10, earning their first ACC Championship in twenty years, and their first ever BCS Bowl bid.
How WVU Got Here
After hiring Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen as head coach, the Mountaineers got off to a quick 3-0 start before falling to LSU, but they continued to remain a dominant power in the Big East.
Being heavily pass-oriented under Holgorsen's system, West Virginia has boasted and become one of the best passing teams in the nation. Quarterback Geno Smith has been instrumental in the Mountaineers 9-3 season. The season saw the Mountaineers face uncertainty and adversity on their way to the Big East title, dropping key games against Louisville and Syracuse.
It is thanks to the losses of several teams in the Big East—followed by some close, key wins over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and South Florida—that West Virginia is now approaching the Orange Bowl to face off against Clemson.
Clemson: Sammy Watkins
Watkins gives this receiving corps the speed it has not had for a couple of seasons now. He allows quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris to vertically stretch the field, and commands double teams that open up Clemson's running game and the other receivers in Deandre Hopkins, Jaron Brown, and tight end Dwayne Allen. Watkins will be one of the West Virginia defenses' main priorities when they face Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
West Virginia: Geno Smith
Smith has adjusted very well in his first year under the new offensive system, leading a top notch passing attack against a young Clemson secondary that has seen its share of long completions. Geno Smith's ability to make plays in the passing game could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Smith knows how to spread the ball around to his receivers—the Mountaineers have not one, but two receivers who have over 1,000 receiving yards on the year.
If Smith can make good decisions with the football and be more consistent later in the game, the Clemson defense will find out why he has thrown 25 touchdown passes.
When it comes down to it, both of these teams are very similar.
Both are thriving under first year offenses, yet at the same time, they have suffered from consistency issues over the course of the season. They have similar offensive skill sets—though Clemson has a bigger commitment to the run with Andre Ellington in the backfield than the Mountaineers do.
But, the West Virginia defense has provided the team with stops and given Geno Smith more opportunities to lead the team to victory over the last three weeks, while the Clemson Tigers have had inconsistent play from their defense all season, especially at the linebacker position. Their young secondary is also suspect as well.
In this kind of game, when it comes down to it, the team with the ball last will win the game, and whoever does the better job running the ball.
In this case, the edge goes to the Clemson Tigers.
West Virginia: 28