Two exciting offenses get set for a showdown in South Florida as the #15 Clemson Tigers (10-3, 6-2 ACC) take on the #23 West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2 Big East), in what should be an outstanding pairing for this year’s Discover Orange Bowl. With both teams entering tonight’s bowl game with exceptional quarterbacks and high-powered scoring attacks, you certainly won’t want to miss out on this outstanding pairing for the second-to-last BCS bowl game of the NCAA Football season.
For Clemson, it’s been a year of record breaking performances led by quarterback Tajh Boyd and his talented crop of receivers, who have vaulted the Tigers into their first 10-win season in 22 years on the back of an offense that is generating 440 yards per game and putting north of 33 points on the board per contest. Setting school records for passing yards, total yards and scoring in a single season, this Tigers offense has truly been exciting to watch week in and week out, despite a hiccup in form after winning 8 straight games to start the 2011-12 campaign. Finishing the season off with a second win over Virginia Tech after dropping 3 of 4 games down the stretch, Clemson matches up very well against West Virginia tonight in their first BCS-level bowl since 1981, as the two sides both hedge their game plans on lots of passing to pull them past opponents and focus less on defense (each team has allowed just north of 26 points/game this year). If ever there has been a year in both the NCAA and NFL for teams prevailing on high-powered offense at the expense of having a solid defense, this is it, and as such we should expect to see little change in approach for this match-up tonight. Clemson will put the game in the hands of Tajh Boyd (%60.5 completion, 3578 yards, 31 TDs) with expectations of seeing big games out of top receivers Sammy Watkins (77 catches, 1153 yards, 11 TDs), DeAndre Hopkins (62 catches, 871 yards, 4 TDs) and tight end Dwayne Allen (48 catches, 577 yards, 8 TDs).
If there’s one thing the Tigers must improve on tonight it’s keeping the WVU defensive line from getting to their quarterback, as Boyd has had to absorb 28 sacks this season, and the pressure on him has no doubt contributed in part to his 10 interceptions on the year. Fortunately for Clemson, West Virginia has had some difficulties in replacing 7 defensive starters from the 2010 squad, and the Mountaineers have been vulnerable when opposing offenses are able to put up more than 30 points (WVU is 2-3 in those games). Towards that end, Clemson would do well to utilize their 1,000 yard rusher in Andre Ellington (213 carries, 1062 yards, 10 TDs), who was instrumental in the ACC championship game treading for 125 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Getting Ellington going early and often will help to ease the focus on Boyd and the passing game, and open up play-action looks downfield which could further expose weaknesses in the Mountaineers’ secondary. Though you can expect lots of passing with Clemson averaging 284.8 yards/game through the air, the Tigers could surprise WVU by pushing the running game at them, which has contributed a stout 155.8 yards/game to the Clemson bottom line.
While West Virginia may be at a slight disadvantage with a less balanced offense (ranking 98th in the country rushing at 117.8 yards/game), their passing game behind Geno Smith (%65.0 completion, 3978 yards, 25 TDs) has offered them more than enough firepower to compete with any team they face. However, WVU should get a good challenge against a Clemson defensive unit that somewhat surprisingly has only allowed 202.9 yards a contest this season. Clemson’s true vulnerability on defense lies with the rush, allowing 176.5 yards per game, so it will be interesting to see if the Mountaineers try to factor in running backs Dustin Garrison (136 carries, 742 yards, 6 TDs) and Shawne Alston (77 carries, 339 yards, 10 TDs) towards the bottom line tonight. Nonetheless, West Virginia has had a great season pushing the pass with Stedman Bailey (67 catches, 1197 yards, 11 TDs) and all-purpose yards leader Tavon Austin (89 catches, 1063 yards, 4 TDs), who ranks second in the nation with just over 191 yards per game, so expectations that WVU will try something new in this game should be subdued. Ranking 20th in scoring at just under 35 points per game while throwing for 341.8 yards per contest (7th in the nation), West Virginia will likely stick with what works, and hope that they can keep up the scoring in the face of a more balanced approach from Clemson. One thing to note with West Virginia has been their ability to close out tight ball games; in their last 3 wins to end the 2011 season, WVU won by a combined 7 points, and overall the Mountaineers prevailed in every game but 1 that was decided by 10 points or less. In a shoot-out game like this one has the potential of being, their poise and familiarity with close games could be a difference maker as the final minutes wind down, and all the pressure is mounted on the two teams’ key playmakers, Geno Smith for WVU and Tajh Boyd for Clemson.
Betting Lines for #15 Clemson vs. #23 West Virginia at Bovada Sportsbook
Looking across the best online sportsbooks reviewed here at Casino Review today, we’re saddling up our wagers on tonight’s Orange Bowl match-up at the Bovada Sportsbook, the new U.S. home for Bodog Sportsbook, an industry leader in online sports betting for years. The Clemson Tigers come in to tonight’s match-up as the favorite, getting -165 odds on the money line, and getting -3 points against the spread at -130 odds. West Virginia as the underdog sits at +140 odds to win outright on the money, and gets 3 points to play with on the spread at +110 price. With this high-scoring game tonight, expectations should be high that a touchdown will decide the winner, rather than a field goal, as both sides are vulnerable on defense and one or the other may cave in the final moments to give up the touchdown that decides it all. Expecting a very high scoring game with both teams averaging north of 33 points per game, the over/under at 64 points is just about right, but in a big game with everything on the line where defense plays second fiddle to offense, I like the prospects of this game beating the over bet, at -105 odds at Bovada.
Our Pick to Win:
Both West Virginia and Clemson would be great picks to win this game tonight based on their high-powered offenses, but balance on offense is what sets these two teams apart, and that may be where Clemson gains a bit of an edge. Adding to that, Clemson won’t be facing a run-heavy offense, which is the weakest point of their defensive front. Against the pass, the Tigers have done rather well this year, and if they can contain Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin somewhat tonight, they’ll have an edge in a game that should see the winner push the 40 point margin. I like this game to be tight through the first half, and all the way to the waning moments of the game, but I expect to see the Tigers rally late in the game as their able to better control the game clock, and keep WVU’s talented offense off the field by extending drives with the running game. Clemson pulls out a win in the Orange Bowl for the first time in 30 years, beating out West Virginia 38-30.