The Champions of the Big East and ACC will meet on January 4 at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The Clemson Tigers will represent the ACC by defeating Virginia Tech for the 2nd time this season in the ACC Championship game. The Mountaineers landed in a tie atop the Big East standings, but will represent the Big East by virtue of having the highest BCS ranking in the conference.
The game features two high-powered offenses. The Mountaineers are led by junior quarterback Geno Smith who was one of the best passers in the nation this season. WVU’s trademark offensive game came in a loss to the #1 team in the nation, LSU, who also own the nation’s #2 defense. Clemson’s attack is led by Tajh Boyd. The dynamic quarterback who put up impressive passing numbers in his own right. The Mountaineers have a three-headed trio of dynamic wide receivers, but Clemson has perhaps the most well-rounded freshman since Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma in 1st team All-American Sammy Watkins at receiver.
The Mountaineer defense struggled at times this season to get off the field, particularly in the loss to Syracuse. That was predictable after losing 7 starters from last years defense who all ended up on an NFL roster at some point this season. The Mountaineers still ended up with the Big East’s 2nd best defense and in the top 30 in the nation overall. Clemson’s defense ranked near the middle of all schools in the nation.
If it was possible, West Virginia’s special teams, besides 2nd team All-American Tavon Austin, seemed to regress from the Bill Stewart coached special teams units of the past three seasons.
Below, I’ll show you a side-by-side comparison of the two teams featured in the Orange Bowl, and you can decide how the game might play out. Keep in mind that WVU played 12 games while Clemson played in 13. I will tell you how I think the game will play out after the statistical breakdown and ask for your predictions as well.
Overall Offense (per game)
West Virginia Clemson
Passing: 7th (341.8) 21st (284.6)
Rushing: 100th (117.8) 61st (155.8)
Overall: 17th (459.8) 29th (440.62)
Points For: 19th (34.9) 27th (33.6)
ANALYSIS: WVU has a better passing game than Clemson, while Clemson is better on the ground. The points per game are almost even as are total yards per game. Advantage: Slight WVU
Overall Defense (per game)
West Virginia Clemson
Total Yards: 4,084 4,932
YPG: 340.33 379.38
Touchdowns Against: 38 42
Overall: 27th 59th
Points Against: 63rd (26.3) 62nd (26.2)
Strength of Schedule: 55th 37th
ANALYSIS: Although WVU’s defense is going through a rebuilding year under Jeff Casteel, the Mountaineers gave up nearly 1,000 less yards on the season. However, the points against were nearly identical for both teams. That could be explained by WVU’s special teams putting the Mountaineer defense in short-field situations. The Tigers played a tougher schedule due to playing in the better conference. Advantage: WVU
Geno Smith, WVU - Rating: 101.8, Yards: 3,978, TDs: 25, INTs: 7, Rushing Yards: -59, Rushing TDs: 1
Tajh Boyd, Clemson – Rating 99.0, Yards: 3,578, TDs: 31, INTs: 10, Rushing Yards: 186, Rushing TDs: 5
ANALYSIS: Geno Smith was one of the best passers in the nation in Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Tajh Boyd had a breakout season in his own right with a dynamic mix of run and pass. Advantage: Push
Dustin Garrison, WVU – Yards: 742, TDs: 6, YPCarry: 5.5
Andre Ellington, Clemson – Yards: 1,062, TDs: 10, YPCarry: 5.0
ANALYSIS: The Mountaineer run game struggled most of the season after Noel Devine’s departure. Some of that was due to inexperience in the backfield. Other parts of the run game struggles can be attributed to poor blocking by the Mountaineers offensive line. Clemson, however, featured a 1,000-yard back who could take pressure off of the passing game. Advantage: Clemson
Stedman Bailey, WVU – Receptions: 67, Yards: 1,197, TDs: 11, YPCatch: 17.9
Tavon Austin, WVU – Receptions: 89, Yards: 1,063, TDs: 4, YPCatch: 11.9
Ivan McCartney, WVU- Receptions: 47, Yards: 572, TDs: 3, YPCatch: 12.2
Sammy Watkins, Clemson – Receptions: 77, Yards: 1,153, TDs: 11, YPCatch: 15.0
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson – Receptions: 62, Yards: 871, TDs: 4, YPCatch: 14.0
Dwayne Allen, Clemson – Receptions: 48, Yards: 577, TDs: 8, YPCatch: 11
ANALYSIS: I highlighted the top 3 wide receivers from both teams because I wanted to show the depth in receiver on both sides. Sammy Watkins was a 1st Team All-American in this, his Freshman season. Stedman Bailey stacks up with Watkins in stats, but Watkins is also used in a similar fashion to Tavon Austin where he runs the ball 2-3 times per game. The Clemson trio of receivers have more touchdowns overall. Advantage: WVU
OVERALL: I believe this will be an entertaining game that will fill the highlight reels. I have the feeling that WVU will make some mistakes on special teams, but Clemson turnovers might offset that. If the duo of Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller can put pressure on Tajh Boyd, it could lead to a few turnovers if he is forced to get rid of the ball quickly. Currently, the point spread favors Clemson by 3.5. I think WVU wins by 10 with a final score of 38-28.
What do you think will happen in this game? Feel free to post your thoughts and final score prediction in the comments below.