It's finally time for the Orange Bowl, and Clemson and West Virginia are ready to light up the South Beach Sky.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers will spread it right out and go to the air early. With Dustin Garrison out for the game, even more attention will be paid to Geno Smith and the passing game. Smith should continue to have success, as he looks to become the most prolific passing quarterback in WVU history. Look for Smith to be asked to make all the throws in this game, as he goes for big numbers. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin will be his main targets as usual. The big question is, who else will step up? J.D. Woods and Ivan McCartney will probably share a bit of time, and Devon Brown plays his final game. And, look out for Tyler Urban, who tends to get lost in the middle of the field. With Shawne Alston starting at running back, the ground game becomes more of ground and pound than speed. Alston should help a lot in short yardage and in the redzone. Also, watch for Andrew Buie to get plenty of reps as well. Buie brings the speed. It will be a very difficult offense to slow down.
Clemson: Speaking of hard to slow down, the Tigers will be right on pace with WVU. Tajh Boyd broke out this season to show he is one of the better young quarterbacks in the nation. Boyd finished with 31 touchdowns, and will certainly be looking to add to that total tonight. He is a bit more susceptible to the interception, but should have plenty of opportunities against the banged up WVU secondary. Sammy Watkins will be his top target. Watkins was fantastic in his first season. The frosh ended up with 77 receptions and 11 touchdowns. He will be keyed on all night, which should open things up for the res of the crew, including tight end, Dwayne Allen. WVU has struggled against tight ends this year, so look for Allen to be involved early. Clemson is more balanced than the Mountaineers Andre Ellington has had a solid year, rushing for over 1,000 yards. There is no doubt this will be an offensive showcase tonight.
West Virginia: The front is going to need to show up. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller have come on strong lately, and will pose a tough matchup for the Clemson line. The big question will be how the front six slows the running game. The WVU linebacking unit has been hit and miss all year. However, Najee Goode and company played very well down the stretch. First step will be to stop the run, then it's all about slowing down Dwayne Allen. The secondary will be in for a treat. Already missing Terrence Garvin (injury), the young secondary will struggle to slow down Watkins and company. They will have to play more soft zone early on to get a sense of where Clemson will be attacking the most. Bottom-line is WVU needs to get to Boyd. If not, it could be a long night for this crew.
Clemson: It's not a bad unit either, but will struggle (like WVU) to sow down the offense they are facing. The Tigers best shot will also be to try and get to the quarterback. Andre Branch will anchor the front that could make things interesting. Branch, along with Brandon Thompson, and the linebacking crew should be able to slow down the WVU rush. However, slowing down the pass is another story. Clemson will have to bring in extra defensive backs to guard the pass, which could in turn open the rush back up for WVU. It will be a bit of a cat and mouse game early on, but it will be tough to shut down the Mountaineers.
West Virginia: WVU has one of the best return guys in the nation in Tavon Austin. He has returned to kicks all the way, and also is very difficult to bring down. He does tend to drop the ball on punts, so we'll see if someone else gets that gig. Tyler Bitancurt doesn't have huge numbers, but the kid has been clutch. He has some big kicks under his belt. Corey Smith has improved his punting. Kick coverage has been inconsistent this season.
Clemson: Sammy Watkins can also return a kick like a badass, so WVU would be wise to kick it far away from him. Chandler Catanzaro has good range, hitting seven kicks from 40+. Dawson Zimmerman is a solid punter, averaging over 42 yards a kick. Clemson has also struggled with kick coverage this year.
This just feels like a game where both teams are going to put a number on the board. Both offenses have been prolific this season, and it's hard to believe that changes tonight. Expect a close game, with both teams trading scores early on. The defense that can force a mistake or two will probably be the difference. Also, special teams could play a significant role, especially with playmakers on both sides. WVU may have the advantage with the more experienced quarterback. And look for that to pay off in the long run.
Prediction: 38-35 WVU