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Mountaineers, Tigers Face Off in Orange Bowl

January 4, 2012
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

On paper, it looks like West Virginia and Clemson are a lot alike. Both teams started strongly, experienced a rather puzzling lull, then got after it at the end when it mattered most.

And they both boast big offenses.

''They are similar to us.'' WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. ''I think they are incredibly similar to us.''

Article Photos

Dana Holgorsen

Just taking a look at some of the numbers makes you think the Orange Bowl directors have to be thrilled with the matchup.

''I'd be surprised if there's not some points scored in this one," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "I don't think it'll be a 6-3 ball game, you know, like maybe some of the other games around. This one should be an exciting game for fans.''

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd set school records with 3,578 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. Running back Andre Ellington rushed for 1,062 yards and 10 scores.

Freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, a first-team All-American, had 77 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Tight end Dwayne Allen, also an All-American, won the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end. He has 48 receptions for 577 yards and eight touchdowns - all school records for the position.

''They have big-play capability throughout their lineup on every down,'' WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. ''They have a running back that can hit it, a tight end, couple wideouts, and a quarterback in Tajh that gets it there. They're going to be a handful.''

WVU safeties coach Steve Dunlap couldn't keep his eyes off Watkins as he watched the film.

''They're going to find ways to get the ball in (Watkins') hands, there's no doubt about that,'' Dunlap said. ''There's several ways they do it. They're a lot like Pitt. Very multiple, same kind of running game. A lot of blur motion, have two backs in the backfield, they'll run a third receiver through it and snap the ball. Really create different formations by using wide receivers as running backs.''

The Mountaineers (9-3), who are in search of their eighth season of 10 or more victories in school history and are 2-0 all-time in BCS games (it's Clemson's first), of course, counter with a little firepower of their own.

Quarterback Geno Smith, who played in the original Orange Bowl when he was 11 years old and threw a game-winning touchdown, is still working on WVU single-season records with 314 completions, 483 attempts, 3,978 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Stedman Bailey caught 67 passes for 1,197 yards and 11 touchdown passes.

Tavon Austin has a school record 89 catches for for 1,063 yards and scored four touchdowns. Together, they helped WVU become one of three schools in the nation to post two 1,000-yard receivers this season.

As for the three-game losing streak Clemson experienced, there were some significant injuries along the way. The Tigers bounced back in a big way in the ACC Championship Game.

''Well, they didn't look too bad in their last game, and they played a pretty good team (Virginia Tech),'' WVU defensive tackle Julian Miller said. ''They were real hot and won some close games. It is hard to maintain that. We saw that with them as well as a whole bunch of other teams. They hit a two- or three-game skid, but because they are well-coached and have good players, they were able to win the game that counted at the end. It is what college football is about. They regrouped kind of like how we regrouped. It is a tribute to their coaches and players.''

That's true. Losses to Syracuse and Louisville left the Mountaineers wondering just what went wrong. They put it together in time to beat Pitt, Cincinnati, and South Florida in succession to close the season.

''First and foremost you have to win,'' defensive end Bruce Irvin said. ''Regardless of the situation where you need another team to win, you have to take care of what you have to take care of first, and that's to win. I think we did a good job of that the last three games of finding a way to win. It might not have been the prettiest way, but we found a way. We overcame adversity. People thought we were out of it. But we continued to fight, fortunately we got to a BCS bowl.''

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