No. 23 West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. No. 15 Clemson Tigers (10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS), Wednesday January 4th, 2012. 8:30PM EST, Discover Orange Bowl, Sun Life Stadium Miami, F.L.
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: WVU +3.5/Clem -3.5
Over/Under Total: 60.5
The 2012 Discover Orange Bowl will feature two conference champions this year when the no. 23 West Virginia Mountaineers meet the no. 15 Clemson Tigers inside Sun Life Stadium on January 4th. The Mountaineers finished in a 3 way tie for a share of the Big East Championship this season. Of course the Big East Champion is automatically qualified for a BCS Bowl Berth and the Mountaineers got the nod to represent the Big East after winning the tie breaking scenario by being the highest ranked team in the BCS standings. Now the 9-3 Mountaineers have the chance to score their first ever Orange Bowl victory and reach the 10 win mark in Coach Dana Holgorsen’s first year in Morgantown.
For that to happen, the Mountaineers will have to conquer a Clemson Tigers team that has been an offensive juggernaut for much of the year. The Clemson Tigers will enter the Orange Bowl with a little swagger after blowing out previous no. 5 Virginia Tech 38-10 to score their first ACC Championship in over two decades. The 10-3 Tigers now get the chance to return to the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1982 when they captured their only National Championship in school history.
As stated previously, Clemson took the ACC and most of the nation by storm this year on the offensive side of the football. The Tigers offense ranked towards the bottom of the nation following 2010, but new offensive coordinator Chad Morris turned the Tigers into one of the best offenses in the nation. This season Clemson has averaged 440 yards (29th in NCAA) and 33 points (26th in NCAA) per game. The Tigers have a different look from year’s past with a new spread passing offense led by QB Tahj Boyd. Boyd has had a big season throwing the football by completing 60.5% passing for 3,578 yards with 31 scores and 10 picks on the year. Through the first half of the year, Boyd was putting up Heisman Trophy type numbers before fading a bit during the 2nd half of the year.
Still, Boyd has the potential and the weapons at his side to keep the Clemson offense explosive as ever. WR Sammy Watkins just may be the best freshman in the entire country after making numerous game changing plays this year. Watkins ended the year with 1,153 receiving yards and 11 scores to lead the entire ACC. The sensational freshman has good hands matched with lethal speed and can make big plays in the blink of an eye. However, Watkins is not the only talented target in the passing game. TE Dwayne Allen is among the best receiving tight ends in the country. Allen has caught 8 touchdowns through the air this season and he is the go to guy in critical situations.
Collectively, Clemson is very tough to beat when they are clicking in the passing game. However, the Tigers and mainly Boyd has struggled a little this year when he is forced to get rid of the ball quickly. Clemson lost 3 of their last 4 regular season games before thumping Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship and the common theme in all of those losses was inconsistency with Boyd. Boyd tossed 7 picks through the last 4 games of the year and really appeared to have his confidence rattled when the offensive line was unable to provide time to throw the football.
That area of the game will be critical for Clemson among the offensive front. The Mountaineers defensive line has put pressure on opposing quarterbacks considerably well this year averaging 2.25 sacks per game. If West Virginia’s defense can keep Boyd on the run when the two teams tangle in Miami, it will greatly increase their chances to forces some turnovers and keep the Tigers offense at bay.
Still, West Virginia will have to score their share of points as well which may not be much of a problem. The Mountaineers sport a pretty potent passing offense as well averaging 341 yards (7th in NCAA) per game through the air. QB Geno Smith is having an incredible season completing 65.5% passing for 3,978 yards with 25 scores and 7 picks. Smith has really played well not only all season but especially well during the 2nd half of the year. Hopefully for the Mountaineers, he will be able to keep the momentum going against the Tigers defense.
Just like Clemson, West Virginia has some really big talent in the receiving core. In fact, both wide outs Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving mark on the year. Bailey led the team with 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns. Austin contributed with another 1,063 yards and 4 scores. West Virginia has not run the ball well this season which has been a concern for Coach Holgorsen. Therefore, it is important that the stars in the passing offense shine bright when the sun sets in Miami for the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread:– I think the Mountaineers are the better team on both sides of the football in this game. Clemson had a lot of success earlier in the year but they appear to be a different team at this point in the season. The Tigers put up a strong defensive effort against Virginia Tech for the 2nd time this year but the Hokies are a rushing football team. The Mountaineers passing attack will put a lot of pressure on the Clemson secondary that has not seen a really strong passing unit this year. Therefore, all signs point to the Mountaineers to win straight up. The points are just extra. Take West Virginia +3.5.
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