Everything You Need to Know for the Orange Bowl
DISCOVER ORANGE BOWL: #23 West Virginia (9-3) vs. #15 Clemson (10-3)
[Wednesday, Jan. 4 at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN]
West Virginia closed the season on a three-game winning streak to win the Big East championship. While this may or may not be the Mountaineers’ final year in the Big East (depending on the outcome of two pending lawsuits), West Virginia is more than happy to represent the conference one last time in the Orange Bowl. Clemson, meanwhile, beat Virginia Tech twice this season, including 38-10 in the ACC title game, to clinch its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship since 1991 and first 10-win season since 1990.
Clemson’s Record-Setting Offense
Clemson’s offense was the story of the Tigers season, setting school records for passing yards, total yards and scoring. Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for nearly 3,800 yards to go with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. He had a lot of help from talented tight end Dwayne Allen, the Mackey Award Winner who set school records for receptions, yards and touchdowns by a tight end. Freshman phenom receiver Sammy Watkins was just the third true freshman ever to be named an AP All-American after catching 77 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. Running back Andre Ellington added 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, giving Clemson a 1,000 yard rusher and receiver for the third time in school history.
West Virginia’s Aerial Attack
West Virginia may not have the running threat that Clemson does, but the Mountaineers passing game is every bit as potent, ranking sixth in the nation in passing yardage. Quarterback Geno Smith threw for 3,978 yards to go with 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. His top target, wide receiver Stedman Bailey, caught 67 balls this season for a school-record 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns. Slot receiver Tavon Austin also went over 1,000 receiving yards and is a threat in the return game, ranking second in the nation with 191.2 all-purpose yards per game.
Will Either Defense Step Up?
On paper, neither defense looks to be much of a factor in this game as the two teams are decidedly average on that side of the ball. Clemson ranks 62nd in scoring defense, while West Virginia ranks 63rd. Both teams are giving up more than 26 points per game, which could turn this game into a real shootout between two high-powered offenses.
This is Clemson’s first BCS bowl and its first trip to the Orange Bowl since winning the school’s only national championship there in 1982. The Tigers were in the national title mix after starting the season 8-0, but struggled down the stretch, going 1-3 in their final four games before righting the ship with their convincing win in the ACC title game. This is West Virginia’s third BCS appearance (2-0 in previous games), but its first trip to the Orange Bowl. The BCS seemed a long shot after starting the season 6-3. But the Mountaineers won their final three games by a total of seven points and got some help from Cincinnati in the final week of the regular season to wrap up the Big East title.