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Monday, January 2, 2012

Orange Bowl Preview: WVU vs. Clemson

So far on my blog I've mainly talked about basketball. It is the middle of the basketball season, but more importantly the Mountaineers are set to play their biggest football game of the year in two days. The Mountaineers hope to play in the Big XII next season, but before they have that opportunity, they will represent the Big East in the BCS Orange bowl against ACC winner Clemson.
The match-up has several intriguing story lines. It pits two electric offenses against each other led by two dual-threat quarterbacks. Another story line involves those quarterbacks, as Clemson signal caller Tajh Boyd was one step away from wearing blue and gold instead of orange and white.

I've decided to do a unit-by-unit analysis, with some back story about Tajh Boyd, so without further ado.

Geno Smith and Tajh Boyd have several similarities. Both quarterbacks are athletic and mobile, although both prefer to do damage with their arms. In addition both quarterbacks had very good seasons this year leading up to the Orange Bowl. Both Geno and Tajh were also committed to play for coach Bill Stewart at West Virginia University, although neither actually plays for Bill Stewart. While hindsight is 20-20, that development probably helped both players careers. Smith has blossomed his junior year at WVU under new head coach and passing guru Dana Holgerson, while Boyd also had a breakout season as a redshirt sophomore at Clemson.

This year, Smith has put up nearly 4,000 yards in the air (3,978), exactly 400 more yards than Boyd. Smith has done that while completing 65.0% of his passes compared to just 60.5 for Boyd, and both have similar TD/INT ratios, with Smith putting up a 25/7 ratio and Boyd putting up a 31/10 ratio. That gives Geno a statistical edge, especially considering he has also gotten less run support by about 600 yards, meaning the Mountaineer's offense has relied more upon their signal-caller's arm than Clemson has relied on their quarterback's arm.

Furthermore, Smith holds a physical edge over Boyd. Both are blessed with good athleticism that allows them to extend plays, but Smith is 2 inches taller, allowing him to see over his offensive line. In addition, this is Smith's second season starting, meaning he is more experienced and thus more poised, an impressive and noticeable trait about Geno Smith.
Edge: WVU

Offensive Line
The Quarterback is often regarded as the most important player on the field at any given time, and it's true that he touches the ball on virtually every snap. However, no quarterback would be able to do anything without help from their offensive line. Looking at the match up, the WVU line has looked shoddy all year long. The numbers back that up, as the Mountaineers have only managed 3.8 yards per attempt on the ground. In addition, Geno has been sacked 26 times. Clemson, however, hasn't been much better, only average 4.0 yards per attempt on the ground and have actually given up more sacks at 28, although Clemson has played one more game, so per game WVU's offensive line has given up more sacks. In addition, the defenses WVU has faced have not been as talented as the ACC defenses Clemson has faced this year, with the exception of LSU, a team that was unable to sack Geno Smith. Still, Clemson doesn't have offense issues like WVU.
Edge: Clemson 

Skill Positions (RB/WR/TE)
Both teams have excellent quarterbacks, but the wealth at the skill positions for both teams, especially at wide receiver, is enough to make virtually any school jealous. For WVU, it's Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Ivan McCartney at wide receiver. Clemson's trio features names such as tight end Dwayne Allen, DeAndre Hopkins and freshman sensation Sammy Watkins, both wide receivers . WVU's leading rusher is the diminutive Dustin Garrison, while Shawne Alston, who has 10 rushing touchdowns, offers a change of pace. Clemson has relied on the quick, but sturdy Andre Ellington, who rushed for over 1,000 yards this season.

Clemson has a slightly better stable of running backs, led by Ellington. In addition, their receiver trio looks better overall than WVU's by the slightest of margin. Mountaineers Austin and Bailey are probably the best duo, especially considering both had 1,000 yards receiver, but Sammy Watkins will be the best offensive player on the field. Just a freshman, Watkins is explosive and should be a handful for the WVU secondary come Wednesday. However, the wild card is DeAndre Hopkins. Not necessarily because of his specific impact on the field, but if he will even be on the field at all. Unfortunately, Hopkins was recently injured in a car accident. Recent news indicates that Hopkins should be ready to go in the Orange Bowl, but his health status, which isn't a certainty, is a knock on Clemson's skill position potency.
Edge: Tie

Defensive Line/LB
The defensive line and linebacker match up is similar to comparing apples to oranges. WVU plays a 3-3-5 stack, meaning their linebackers are more important in both stopping the run and rushing the passer. Conversely, Clemson runs a 4-3 scheme, meaning their defensive ends are geared to rush the passer and their interior line men are set up to stop the rush. Here, the advantage on the line goes to Clemson led by athletic defensive Andre Branch. The Mountaineers get the edge at linebacker, led by Najee Goode and Bruce Irvin. Clemson's linebackers are also good, however, and the Mountaineers line has struggled at times this year stopping the run or getting pressure on the quarterback.
Edge: Clemson 

Defensive Secondary
Looking at the stats, it's pretty even. WVU has allowed less points in the air and less yard per game, with both teams allowing right around 200 yards per game passing. On the flip side, Clemson has allowed a lower percentage of completions allowed this season, with both teams hovering around 57%. In addition, both teams have average exactly one pick a game. The Mountaineers have the best playmaker on the field, Keith Tandy, an All-American last year. Far from a pure cover corner, Tandy does however have the instincts to put himself in a position to make interceptions, which could be crucial come Wednesday.
Edge: WVU 

Final Prediction
Overall that's two edges to WVU and two to Clemson with one tie. It should be an exciting close game. I'll make sure I pick my Mountaineers and I'll say the final score is 28-24 WVU. I expect to see Geno Smith's poise come into play as he makes a big play late to lead WVU to a third BCS Bowl win and presumably their last in the Big East.

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