Miami, FL - January 4, 2012 - 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
West Virginia 9-3 (5-2)
Clemson 10-3 (6-2)
This year, the Orange Bowl features a matchup of teams that rode their respective offenses to conference titles. West Virginia fired cosch Bill Stewart and replaced him with offensive wizard Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen completely revamped a flagging offense that finished the season as one of the nation's best passing offenses. Clemson also hired a new offensive coach, Chad Morris, to try and finally take advantage of the skill position talent that the staff had amassed in Clemson over the past few recruiting classes. Morris' no-huddle, wide open offense was equally successful and helped the Tigers ride an offense that averaged nearly 34 points per game to an ACC championship and its first trip to the Orange Bowl since 1982.
For Clemson, it's all about offense and tempo. Morris' no-huddle offense relies on keeping teams off balance and unable to substitute nearly as much as a traditional offense would allow. Quarterback Tahj Boyd picked up the offense quickly, and finished the year having thrown for 3,578 yards, 31 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions, while also rushing for 5 more scores. The offense is balanced, however, as the Tigers also rush for 155.8 yards per game. The spark for the offense, however, comes from the playmakers at receiver. Freshman Sammy Watkins exploded on to the national scene and quickly established himself as one of the nation's most electrifying players, catching 77 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. Watkins also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. His receiving partner, DeAndre Hopkins, also had a big year with 871 yards and 4 touchdowns. Working the middle of the field and keeping defenses honest is all-ACC tight end Dwayne Allen (577 yards, 8 touchdowns). The multitude of weapons makes it difficult for any defense to focus on one facet and shut it down. That's bad news for a West Virginia defense that, while still 27th nationally in total defense (allowing 340.3 yards per game), has been suspect at times against teams determined to run the ball on them and then take shots down the field. The Mountaineers will also be down a couple of defensive players, including Terrence Garvin, for the game.
West Virginia, much like Clemson, moved to a no-huddle, shotgun oriented offense that throws the ball far more effectively than it does run it. The Mountaineers finished 7th nationally in passing offense, averaging 341.8 yards per game through the air. Quarterback Geno Smith passed for 3,919 yards, 25 touchdowns and threw just 7 interceptions. He has plenty of weapons to choose from in receivers Ivan McCartney, Stedman Bailey, and Tavon Austin. All three are dangerous receivers. The problem for the West Virginia offense has been maintaining even a semblance of balanced. The Mountaineers rush for just 117 yards per game, good enough to rank 98th nationally in rushing offense. Between issues with the offensive line and issues settling on a tailback, the running game never developed to the degree that it did in Holgorsen's previous stops in Houston and Oklahoma State. It's unfortunate for West Virginia, because the running game has been the one place opposing offenses have been able to attack Clemson most effectively. The Tigers finished the season allowing 140 yards per game on the ground.
It's nearly impossible to predict just how bowl games will go anyway. It's even more difficult to pick them when considering two teams who have played extremely well at times, only to lay complete eggs at others. When fully healthy, Clemson's offense has been outstanding, and that's likely going to be enough to beat West Virginia. The Mountaineers once again won nine games, but the final margins of victory in their final three wins were three, one, and three points in wins over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and South Florida. The offense will move the ball through the air at times, but the instability of the offensive line and running game (West Virginia is down to just two healthy running backs) will be too much to allow them to score with Clemson and will give the Tigers a win in the Orange Bowl.
Prediction - Clemson 30 West Virginia 21
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