West Virginia faces next challenge: Strong Clemson defensive front
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, center, watches practice Friday at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla.
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MIAMI SHORES, Fla. -- West Virginia's offensive line has stared down some of the best defensive lines in Division I-A this season.
Think Cincinnati. LSU. Even South Florida.
Well, they get little respite this bowl season.
Clemson's front four was the most dominating part of the Tigers defense this season, with a trio of seniors that anchored a veteran line including all-ACC defensive end Andre Branch, and tackles Rennie Moore and Brandon Thompson. Junior Malliciah Goodman plays the other end.
"I have respect for them," said West Virginia center Joe Madsen. "They're big guys, they like to run around a lot. They use their hands a lot, and that's what we're looking for. It'll be another test how we score, move the ball."
West Virginia struggled to run the ball most of the season, particularly down the stretch, when it faced some of the top run-stopping teams in Division I-A.
Clemson is ranked No. 81 against the run, allowing 176.46 yards a game, and is No. 58 in total defense, allowing 379.38 yards a game.
But the defensive line is no joke.
"They have a good D-line, which is going to make it challenging," said coach Dana Holgorsen. "We've faced a whole bunch of good D-lines this year. They're no different. We're always going to try to get the run game going. If we do, it makes it easier; if we don't, it makes it harder."
Madsen said regardless of the past, he and the rest of the offense just need to be the tougher team out there on the field.
"They're a tough team, and I think we just need to be tougher, we need to come out and be more focused than them," Madsen said. "Not let the outside elements get to us, the hotel and everything, just cancel out all the distractions and get the job done."
The Clemson defensive line is coming off its best performance of the season in the ACC title game.
The line was dominant and held Virginia Tech's top running back, David Wilson, to 32 yards on 11 carries.
Madsen said the team has been working on the run game "tons" leading up to the Orange Bowl.
"Tons. We're always working to get better," Madsen said.
"Our team's proven we can get the job done. It doesn't matter much how we move the ball. At the end of the end of the game we're coming out with the victory."
Branch led the ACC with 10.5 sacks this year and is considered a top NFL draft pick. Thompson is considered a top choice at defensive tackle.
Clemson defensive back Crezdon Butler said he expects the whole Tigers defense will be challenged by West Virginia's offense.
"They're probably one of the top three offenses we'll have played this year. We'll have our hands full," Butler said.
"The speed they have, we're going to have our hands full. We've got to play in space, get out there and tackle them low. Everyone knows you can't run without your legs. Get those legs out from under them and we should be fine."
First Published December 31, 2011 12:00 am