Offense aplenty is anticipated for Orange Bowl
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If tonight's Orange Bowl is indeed a shootout between two teams that love to throw the ball, strike quickly and keep the tempo rolling, then buckle up.
It's Geno Smith and his pair of 1,000 yard receivers vs. Tajh Boyd and the explosive Sammy Watkins.
It's two teams that run an up-tempo spread offense and can hurt opponents with big plays.
It's two defenses, although employed differently, that are statistically very similar.
And it's a chance for No. 23 West Virginia to take the national stage one more time this season, where it will try to upset No. 14 Clemson.
- Matchup: No. 23 West Virginia (9-3) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-3), 8:30 p.m. Sun Life Stadium, Miami.
- TV/Radio: ESPN, 970-AM.
- West Virginia: Ranked No. 7 in passing offense (341.8) led by QB Geno Smith (314 for 483, 25 TDs). ... Two 1,000 yard receivers in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. ... Lost leading rusher Dustin Garrison to knee injury. ... Defense has 19 turnovers this year. ... Coming off three wins to end the season.
- Clemson: Puts up just shy of 441 yards a game. ... Led by QB Tajh Boyd (274 of 453 completions for 3,578 yards) and freshman WR Sammy Watkins who has three 150-yard receiving games and 77 receptions. ... TE Dwayne Allen has 8 touchdowns on 48 receptions for 577 yards. ... Defensive line features two expected high NFL draft picks in DE Andre Branch and DT Brandon Thomas.
- Hidden stat: Clemson and West Virginia rank No. 62 and 63 in nation in scoring defense.
"Our biggest thing as a football team is to figure out how to score one more point," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "If they make a bunch of plays, which we anticipate they will, we need to line up and stop them. Offensively, we need to counter, getting the ball to Tavon [Austin], getting the ball to Stedman [Bailey]. Getting it to guys who have stepped up."
Austin and Bailey have combined for 15 receiving touchdowns and some spectacular plays this season, but will be tested by Clemson's secondary.
Bailey has 1,197 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns; Austin has 1,063 yards and four touchdowns.
Clemson's pass defense ranks No. 35 among Division I-A teams and gives up just 202.92 yards per game.
"Their defensive backs are probably a little bigger than some of the guys we've played," said inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson. "I mean, probably a lot like LSU's were, bigger guys. But just their athletic ability. They run around. Their D-line is athletic. It's not like they try to fool you or anything; they're just going to line up and try to hit you in the mouth, so hopefully we can get somebody open every now and again."
Smith, who grew up close enough to Sun Life Stadium to see plays on the Jumbotron, will be leading the charge, but is without one key weapon: running back Dustin Garrison.
Garrison tore his anterior cruciate ligament and sprained his medial collateral ligament Friday night.
Shawne Alston, a bigger back, will start and will be aided by freshman Andrew Buie.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said his defense will need to adapt constantly to account for all of the things West Virginia does offensively.
"Well, I mean, they throw the ball for a million yards, 40-something times a game, and he's completing 65 percent of his passes," Swinney said. "I mean, we've got to be able to affect the quarterback, and the way you do that, one way is through coverage. People got to be where they're supposed to be. You've got to change it up. If you just do one thing, they're going to lock in on you pretty quick. They've got answers."
Clemson is led by Boyd, the one-time West Virginia recruit who has found Watkins 77 times for 1,153 yards.
"Obviously they're going to throw [Watkins] the ball, but he'll get it as a running back and they're going to screen him," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "They'll throw the ball down the field, and he goes up and gets it. But I think his speed and athleticism are really what probably separates him from guys."
Boyd has completed 274 of 453 passes for 3,578 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
West Virginia will also be accounting for tight end Dwyane Allen, who is "6-4, about 255. Runs like a wideout, blocks like a tackle," according to Swinney.
Tonight marks one month since the Mountaineers learned it would play in its first Orange Bowl and Clemson would return for the first time in 30 years.
"The excitement level of our kids went through the roof," Holgorsen said. "They were ready to do absolutely anything we put in front of them because of the magnitude of the game."
First Published January 4, 2012 12:00 am