By Casey Keefe
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#23 West Virginia (9-3) vs. #15 Clemson (10-3) – 8:30 p.m.
If you like points, this is your game. West Virginia (35 ppg) and Clemson (34 ppg) have two of the more explosive offenses in the country. The Tigers have the better defense but I have no doubt Dana Holgerson’s Mountaineer offense will find a way to put up points and keep them on their heels.
For me, there are a couple keys that will go a long way towards deciding this game…
1. Consistency & Composure: It’s been a rollercoaster ride for both these teams this season. Clemson has seen highs (beating Virginia Tech twice) and well as lows (blown out by NC State & South Carolina). West Virginia has experienced lesser highs with their only significant win coming against Cincinnati but more disastrous lows (losing to Syracuse by 26 points!)… The bottom line is you never know what you’re going to get out of either of these teams. If both stay focused, composed and play up to their potential it’ll be a very even matchup on the field.
2. Clemson’s OL vs. West Virginia’s DL: The Mountaineers’ defense won’t set the world on fire, but the one thing they can do is rush the passer. The guy to keep an eye on is defensive end Bruce Irvin who will be a terrific pro. Clemson’s offensive line has been a weak point all year long. In two of their biggest games, the Tigers allowed 6 sacks against NC State and 5 sacks against South Carolina. West Virginia comes in with 27 sacks on the season. How that Clemson offensive line holds up and whether quarterback Tajh Boyd can escape pressure will be vitally important.
3. Red Zone Efficiency: Points will be plenty in this one—however every singular point will be precious. As is always the case, you can’t leave points on the field. Red zone efficiency will be ultra important for both teams. When you have a game that’ll be as high scoring as this one, the difference between 3 and 7 points in a possession will be huge. West Virginia’s red zone defense worries me. They ranked 83rd in the nation and have allowed 38 touchdowns on the season.
4. Tajh Boyd vs. Geno Smith: Both these signal callers have been phenomenal this year. Boyd (3,578 yards, 36 Total TD’s, 10 INT’s) took the scene by storm early in the season. Before a couple bumps in the road, he was a definite Heisman contender. Smith (3,978 yards, 25 TD’s, 7 INT’s) has been equally as great and even more mistake-free. He doesn’t have terrific talent surrounding him but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up outrageous numbers. Most people consider LSU the best defense in the land, right? Well, Smith passed for 463 yards against them earlier in the season. That’s right—463 yards… Boyd and Smith shoulder so much responsibility for their offenses. Whoever plays better and smarter will be a key factor in deciding this game.
What casual fans who may not have seen a whole lot of college football this season need to realize is that this is not the same type of West Virginia team that we’ve become accustomed to over the past several years. As good as Smith has been, the offense has really been hurt by a lack of a run game. They rank 100th in the nation in rushing yards (118 ypg). They don’t have a single back that scares you. You wonder how much more dangerous this offense would be if Noel Devine was still around. The lack of that type of running threat has made the Mountaineers somewhat one-dimensional.
As flaky as Clemson’s defense has been at times, they did answer the bell in their two biggest games of the season—both against Virginia Tech. In those two meetings, one in Blacksburg and one in the ACC title game, Clemson held the Hokies to a total of just 13 points. With this Orange Bowl being by far the biggest game many of Clemson’s kids will ever play in, you have to figure they’ll rise to the occasion once again. Slowing down Smith will be no easy task, but I think we’ll see a bend-don’t-break type of defense from the Tigers—allowing underneath passes but limiting damage deep in the secondary and in the red zone.
I expect Boyd to have a huge game. As long as Clemson’s offensive line can do a half way decent job of holding their ground I think Boyd will be able to make some plays downfield. The man who’ll do the most damage is freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins (1,153 yards, 11 TD’s). After a fast start to the season, Watkins cooled off down the stretch, but I expect him to shake off the struggles and have a huge game against the Mountaineers. The bottom line is when push comes to shove the team I have more faith in to make the big play on both offense and defense is Clemson. There’s no doubt about that.
Prediction: Clemson 38, West Virginia 34
Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN
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