Orange Bowl Prediction: West Virginia Mountaineers vs Clemson Tigers
Tuesday, January 03, 2012
by Frank Martin
It's a matchup of explosive offenses, both teams average more than 33 points and 440 yards, and dangerous quarterbacks. Clemson Tigers' Tajh Boyd is a dual threat who has passed for 3,578 yards with 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and added 194 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. West Virginia Mountaineers' Geno Smith, a native of the Miami area, has broken school records for attempts (483), completions (314) and passing yards (3,978) already this season.
The Tigers have been hurt at times by an inability to stop the run. While the Mountaineers don't run much -- they rank 100th in the nation with 117.8 rushing yards per game -- their ability to establish the ground game early could be the key to opening up the passing game and getting their offense going. It will be harder for West Virginia to accomplish that, though, without leading rusher Dustin Garrison (742 yards, six touchdowns), who suffered a serious knee injury during practice Friday.
It's Clemson's first trip to the Orange Bowl since its 22-15 win over Nebraska on Jan. 1, 1982, capped a perfect season and the school's only national championship. The return to Miami prompted Tigers coach Dabo Swinney to say, "This is the site of our program's greatest moment, and we've been wandering in the desert for a long time since."
Clemson is West Virginia's fourth consecutive ACC bowl opponent, and its fourth different one. The Mountaineers are 2-0 in BCS bowls, but they lost to N.C. State in last year's Champs Sports Bowl. The Mountaineers lost to Clemson 27-7 in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30, 1989, in the only previous meeting.
West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3): The Mountaineers had to win their last three games -- by a combined seven points -- to force a three-way tie atop the Big East with Cincinnati and Louisville and slip into their third BCS bowl. Smith has two dangerous receiving weapons in Stedman Bailey, a deep threat who has caught 67 passes for a school-record 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Tavon Austin, who has 89 catches for 1,063 yards. West Virginia will be without safety Terence Garvin, who has a knee injury that requires surgery. Garvin had 72 tackles and two interceptions this season.
Clemson Tigers (10-3): The Tigers went from off the national radar to start the season to surprise national title contender before losing three of their last four regular-season games. They bounced back with a 38-10 win over Virginia Tech in the ACC title game -- their second dominant performance against the Hokies this season -- to earn their first BCS bowl bid, their first ACC title since 1991 and their first 10-win season since 1990. The Tigers had a 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington and receiver Sammy Watkins for the third time in school history, but they will be without their No. 2 rusher, as freshman Mike Bellamy is still serving an indefinite suspension that began with the ACC title game.
NCAA FOOTBALL PREDICTION: Clemson 31, West Virginia 28. The Tigers' greatest weakness is its run defense, something the Mountaineers are ill-equipped to exploit.
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