The Final Breakdown

A pair of high-octane, high-scoring offenses are set to square off in the Orange Bowl on Wednesday night when ACC champion Clemson takes on Big East co-champion West Virginia.

WHAT: No. 15 Clemson vs. No. 23 West Virginia
WHERE: Sun Life Stadium (72,230) - Miami Gardens, Fla.
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan. 4 (8 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -3

After all, Clemson ranks No. 24 in the country in scoring offense with 33.6 points per game while West Virginia is 19th with 34.9

And The Mountaineers have the 17th offense with 459.6 yards per game. (The Tigers sit 27th with 440.6.)

Dabo Swinney leads Clemson to the first BCS bowl appearance in school history while first-year West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has the Mountaineers in the BCS for the third-time in school history.

Meanwhile West Virginia earned its bid to the Orange Bowl by after finishing the season with wins over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and USF. The co-Big East title winners finished the regular season with a 9-3 record.

Clemson roared out of the gates to an 8-0 record before dropping three of their final four games in the regular season. Their berth in the Orange Bowl came thanks to a 38-10 drubbing of Virginia Tech in the ACC title game.

Wednesday marks the second meeting between Clemson and West Virginia -- the Tigers beat the Mountaineers 27-7 in the 1989 Gator Bowl.

It's also Clemson's first Orange Bowl appearance since the 1981 National Championship, which they won 22-15 over Nebraska.

First-team All-ACC quarterback Tajh Boyd has completed 271 of 450 passes for 3,541 yards with 30 touchdowns. He also finished the season ranked 12th nationally in points responsible for, 18th in total offense and 30th in pass efficiency.

Boyd threw for over 300 yards four times this season, all of which rank among the top-six passing performances in school history.

He's established Clemson single-season records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, total offense [3,764] and touchdown responsibility [36].

First-team All-ACC quarterback Tajh Boyd has completed 271 of 450 passes for 3,541 yards with 30 touchdowns. (Roy Philpott)
With two more touchdowns [passing or rushing], he would set the ACC record for touchdown responsibility.

Led by Mackey Award winner Dwayne Allen and ACC Rookie of the Year Sammy Watkins, there are plenty of weapons at Boyd's disposal.

Allen, an All-American, has 48 receptions for 577 yards and eight touchdowns -- all of which are school records for a tight end.

Watkins has all-time school highs in receptions [77], receiving yards [1,153] and touchdowns [11]. He owns the single-season record for receiving yards, is tied for first in receiving touchdowns and ranks third in receptions.

Fellow wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who suffered a mild concussion last week, has recorded 62 catches for 871 yards and four touchdowns. He became the second player in ACC history to have at least 50 receptions in each of his first two years. Hopkins is expected to play, though.

Led by first-team All-Big East cornerback Keith Tandy and second-team free safety Eain Smith, the West Virginia pass defense ranks among the nation's best. The Mountaineers are 15th with a pass efficiency defense rating of 112.48 and 30th in pass defense with 199.6 yards allowed per game.

Tandy is first among Mountaineer defenders with three interceptions. As a team, they finished with 12, tied for 51st in the country.

Defensive end Bruce Irvin is leads West Virginia with 7.5 sacks while tackle Julian Miller is second with six. The two have combined for half of the team's 27 total sacks. Keep in mind of the West Virginia sacks, 10 were in the Backyard Brawl against rival Pittsburgh.

Because West Virginia could drop as many as eight defenders into coverage, down field windows for Boyd could be extremely narrow for Boyd, who has shown a tendency to trust his arm a little too much. But it's probably a safe assumption that Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has drilled patience into Boyd's head during the month-long lay-off between games.

Assuming the last month of work carries over to Wednesday night's game, good decisions by Boyd give the Tigers the advantage.

And assuming the run game can loosen things up in the secondary, which we believe will be the case, the opportunities for deep shots will open up.


This is the matchup that could make the difference in the game for Clemson. A solid rushing output by Andre Ellington could go a long way in keeping the Clemson offense on the field and the West Virginia offense on the sideline.

Plus, as mentioned just above, a good ground game has the potential to open up windows for the air attack.

A second-team All-ACC pick, Andre Ellington leads the Tigers with 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns. (Roy Philpott)
Here's betting it happens.

A second-team All-ACC pick, Ellington leads the Tigers with 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Though the Clemson backfield will be short-handed, like it was in the ACC Championship game, Boyd, Watkins and D.J. Howard help form a very formidable component of the Tigers' offense.

Freshman running back Mike Bellamy, the team's second-leading rusher, was suspended the day before the title game. He's suspended until after the Orange Bowl.

Watkins is third on the team with 229 yards rushing while Howard is fifth with 226. Boyd is second with five rushing touchdowns.

Against the run, West Virginia is middle of the road, in terms of the national stats ranking. The Mountaineers are 52nd with an average of 140.75 yards per game. They're 45th in tackles for loss per game with 6.25.

West Virginia opponents scored multiple rushing touchdowns in five of their last six games, including back-to-back games against Cincinnati and Louisville, which saw the two teams reach pay dirt three times on the ground.

Thirteen of the 19 rushing touchdowns scored against the Mountaineers were in the second half of the season.

Ellington and company add to that total with a couple more.


Holgorsen is a disciple of the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach school of air-raid football. West Virginia football is full of quick hitting passes and screens to wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, both of whom surpassed 1,000 yards receiving this year.

Geno Smith owns West Virginia single-season school records for attempts [483], completions [314] and passing yards [3,978]. He's thrown just seven interceptions.

Geno Smith is one of the top passers in the nation this year, setting school records for attempts [483], completions [314] and passing yards [3,978]. (Getty Images)
Bailey, the Mountaineers' most dangerous deep threat, has caught 67 passes for a school-record 1,197 yards with 11 touchdowns. Austin, who works mostly out of the slot, leads the team with 89 receptions and averages 191.2 all-purpose yards per game, which is second in the country.

Clemson has allowed four opponents to throw for at least 250 yards this season, including Troy (258), Florida State (336), North Carolina (316) and N.C. State (253).

Given the success West Virginia has in this phase of offense, the Mountaineers could potentially rack up fair share of yardage through the air.

Good pocket push from Clemson defensive linemen Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson could, however, throw off the rhythm that allows Smith to be successful. And West Virginia does allow over two sacks a game.

Unless Clemson is able to come up with some interceptions, it's hard to predict an advantage in the Tigers' favor.


Though West Virginia could steadily utilize the run early on in the game, that element has little bearing on what Holgorsen likes to do with his offense.

Brandon Thompson gets one last chance to impress NFL scouts Wednesday night. (Getty Images)
The Mountaineers rank 98th in the country with 117.8 rushing yards per game. And compared to the number of times they've put the ball in the air [496], the 374 carries total seems much smaller.

For comparison's sake, Clemson has a total of 291 first-downs. West Virginia has 270. The Tigers have 29 more via the run [107] than the Mountaineers [78].

So the losses of starting running back Dustin Garrison and backup Vernard Roberts shouldn't have much of an outcome on the game. Shawne Alston will start at running back, but Austin is also a potential option out of the backfield.

Regardless of who is in the backfield with Smith, there's not enough evidence from West Virginia to suggest that this could swing in favor of either opponent.


Austin, who finished with two kickoff returns for touchdowns, is No. 2 in the country in all-purpose yards. He is No. 5 in yards per punt return [14.1] and No. 18 in yards per kickoff return [26.5].

Because of Austin's contributions, West Virginia ranks in the top-25 nationally in kickoff and punt return averages.

Including the game-winner against Wake Forest, Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro hasn't missed a field in his last six opportunities. The All-ACC second-team selection has hit 20 of 25 attempts. (Roy Philpott)
Clemson has a dangerous return threat in Watkins, who's used primarily in the kickoff return game, was named an AP All-American all-purpose player.

West Virginia kicker Tyler Bitancurt is 16 of 22 on field goal attempts. He proved to be cool under pressure with a 28-yard make as time-expired in the season finale against South Florida.

Chandler Catanzaro was clutch during the regular season, too. He knocked down a 43-yard field goal as time expired on Clemson's ACC Atlantic clinching win over Wake Forest after missing a potential go-head kick just a few minutes earlier.

Including the game-winner against Wake Forest, he hasn't missed a field in his last six opportunities. The All-ACC second-team selection has hit 20 of 25 attempts.

Though the teams are relatively equal in the kicking game, the edge goes to Clemson. West Virginia is 110th in the country in kickoff return defense.

And special teams could be the difference in what many believe will be a high-scoring affair.


PREDICTION: Clemson 34 West Virginia 24 Top Stories