Orange Bowl Will Show Big Offense
MIAMI – As a youngster, Geno Smith lived so close to Sun Life Stadium he would sit outside his house watching games on the upper-deck video screen.
Come Wednesday night, he’ll try to light up the scoreboard himself. Smith returns to South Florida as the quarterback for No. 23-ranked West Virginia against No. 14 Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
“It is kind of a storybook game for me,” Smith said Monday.
The video screen will likely be showing plenty of replays, because both teams score a lot and allow a lot of points. Forcing a couple of turnovers – or even a couple of punts – might be enough to win.
“Man, it’s two great explosive teams,” West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin said.
Both are led by talented triggermen. Smith ranked ninth in the country in total offense this season, while counterpart Tajh Boyd ranked 18th. Each threw for more than 3,500 yards, and each had at least 25 touchdown passes.
“We are both very mobile quarterbacks and can pretty much do everything,” Smith said. “We can throw the ball, we can run. Tajh is a little smaller than I am, but he is just as good.”
Boyd also benefits from a pair of especially inviting targets – first-team All-Americans Sammy Watkins and Dwayne Allen.
A potent offense is the reason the Tigers (10-3) are making their first appearance in a major bowl since January 1982, when they beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for their only national title. Offense is also the reason West Virginia (9-3) has a shot at its third Bowl Championship Series victory in seven years.
The Mountaineers ranked seventh nationally in pass offense and averaged 35.0 points per game. Clemson set school records for total yards, passing yards and points, averaging 33.6.
The buzz about the way both teams move the ball is enough to grate on a defensive player.
“I get tired of it. I ain’t going to lie,” West Virginia linebacker Najee Goode said with a chuckle. “Everybody talks about offense. Nobody talks about defense.
“I love our offense. They make our job easier. But the team that plays the best defense is going to win.”
The Mountaineers’ 3-3 stack defense can be tricky for teams unfamiliar with it, and Clemson doesn’t see it much in the ACC. The scheme makes it difficult to predict which defenders will drop into pass coverage, and West Virginia ranked 15th in the country in pass efficiency defense.
“To attack it is a little bit different,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. ‘They like to drop quite a few back. They’re going to bring their fourth defender somewhere in a rush, and they’re going to try to force your quarterback to make decisions.”
The Mountaineers have been less successful against the run, and that’s Clemson’s weakest area, too.
In fact, it’s hard to say which defense has been less impressive. The Tigers won their first Atlantic Coast Conference title in 20 years despite giving up at least 30 points in six games.
Even while winning their first eight games and climbing to sixth in the rankings, the Tigers allowed 45 points against Maryland, 38 against North Carolina and 30 against Florida State. Then there were blowout losses against North Carolina State and South Carolina to end the regular season.
The Big East Conference co-champion Mountaineers gave up 49, 47 and 38 points in their three defeats. However, they did show improvement late in the year while sweeping the final three games.
“At the beginning of the season I wouldn’t be able to tell you what type of defense we were, or if we even had a personality,” defensive tackle Julian Miller said. “But these last three games definitely showed we’re resilient. You’re not sure what you’re going to get, but you’re going to see us keep playing hard. Hopefully in the fourth quarter we’re hitting on all cylinders.”
Clemson’s defense is coming off its best performance of the season in the ACC title game. The Tigers forced three turnovers, allowed only 330 yards and shut out Virginia Tech in the second half to win, 38-10.
Tigers defensive back Coty Sensabaugh figures there’s room for that kind of defense in the Orange Bowl, too.
“Everybody will be watching the big show,” Sensabaugh said. “We have a great opportunity to prove a point to everybody in the country.”