Well, it's about that time. For the last Staring Down The Musket feature, we paired up with the Clemson blog Shakin the Southland to preview the Discover Orange Bowl matchup between WVU and the Clemson Tigers. As a word of caution, we did this questions last week because we have real lives and families that demanded our attention this weekend. I know, I know, it's hard to believe. But it's true. So the questions don't take into account recent developments like Dustin Garrison's knee injury or DeAndre McDaniel's concussion and subsequent news that he should be good to go by kickoff. While those issues may ultimately factor into the outcome, I think we did a pretty good job of covering the main issues. Let's get to it:
Country Roads: It seems like all the media attention is focused on the offensive playmakers, specifically for Clemson QB Tajh Boyd (a former WVU verbal) and WR Sammy Watkins. Both have obviously had fantastic years, and WVU's defense will undoubtedly be focused on containing them. What's the best way for the Mountaineers to neutralize their talent? If WVU is successful, who are Clemson's secondary weapons who could step up and lead the Tigers to a win?
Shakin The Southland: The first thing WVU you needs to do is to neutralize RB Andre Ellington. If Clemson is able to run the ball through the A and B gaps then that completely opens up the offense. If Clemson is forced to be one dimensional, which has happened multiple times this year, it makes this offense much easier to contain. Wake Forest was the first team to consistently drop 8 guys into coverage and it seemed to throw Boyd for a loop. Wake Forest was able to bottle up the run and forced Boyd to beat them. They also seemed to know the depth of our routes and have defenders right in the throwing lanes. Boyd had been in such a groove that he was forcing balls into areas that were normally open. This trend continued against NC State and South Carolina (along with terrible OL play). The offense seemed to revert to their early season form in the ACC Championship game and looked really solid.
Aside from 1st Team All Americans Dwayne Allen and Sammy Watkins, DeAndre (Nuk) Hopkins is Clemson's next best receiving threat. He is a true sophomore and former 4-star recruit. He doesn't have 4.4 speed, but is physical, has very good hands, and does a good job of going up and getting the ball. He is a good athlete, but isn't going to run past people like Sammy Watkins.
Jaron Brown is a 4th year Junior and has play very well this year. He doesn't have the numbers of the other guys, but he has made a ton of clutch 3rd down catches this year. If too much attention is paid to Allen, Watkins, and Hopkins, Brown is definitely capable of getting open for Boyd.
Two true freshmen to keep an eye on are WRs Charone Peake (5-star) and Martavis Bryant (4-star). Early in the season it seemed like Bryant would catch one ball a game for a 40 yard TD. Each guy only has a handful of catches on the year, but their snap counts have been decent throughout the year and I believe with the extra practice time they may see more opportunities.
STS: Clemson's defense has really only showed up twice this year, both times against VT. We knew we'd be taking a step back after losing two All-Americans in DeAndre McDaniel and Da'quan Bowers, as well as NFL draft picks Jarvis Jenkins and Marcus Gilchrist. The step back just happened to be a lot bigger than we expected.
The best aspect of our defense is our front 4. DT Brandon Thompson is projected to be a 1st or 2nd round draft pick. He is a monster and demands a double team. He will eat up any guard or center in a one-on-one matchup. DE Andre Branch is very good at coming off the right edge in pass rush situations. The problem with the front 4 this year is that Clemson severely lacked in the depth department and the starters were forced to play a huge number of snaps. As the year went on this group started to wear down and it showed.
Clemson's biggest problem with defending the pass has been stopping the big plays. We can play a good series or two, but it seems that inevitably everyone is able to get behind our defense for a 40+ yard TD reception. Our best safety, Rashard Hall, injured his knee early in the season. There were people that speculated that he needed microfracture knee surgery, but chose to forgo surgery until after the season. As a result, he has been a liability over the middle, as it sometimes appears he's playing on one leg. At cornerback we're both young and inexperienced. However, Coty Sensabaugh has played very well as of late.
CR: Dabo Swinney seemed to be an interesting hire after the frustrating Tommy Bowden era. Heck, even this year's late-season slide with losses to NC State, Georgia Tech and South Carolina had to have fans pulling their hair out. Has he won over the Tiger faithful with a couple blowouts over a pretty good Virginia Tech team and the program's first BCS bowl? Or is the jury still out?
STS: There is still a lot of skepticism around Dabo Swinney. It seems people either love him or think he's in over his head. There isn't much of a middle ground.
He was promoted from WR coach to head coach. Many feel that Clemson shouldn't be a place for on the job training. Clemson has enough tradition and a great recruiting base to be a very successful program. Over at Shakin' the Southland we appreciate his recruiting ability but think that he needs some game management and program management work in order to take Clemson to the next level. That being said, everyone appreciates the fact that he brought Clemson their first conference championship in 20 years. We just could've done without our 3rd straight loss to South Carolina. The last time Clemson had lost 2 in a row to South Carolina was 1968-1970. Losing 3 in a row to the chickens in his first 3 seasons as a full time head coach is not acceptable and is going to keep his seat warm until that trend is reversed. To a lot of people, the season felt half full-filled due to that loss. Conference championships are great, but you also have to beat the chickens. Those are the two goals every year.
CR: Speaking of the program's first BCS bowl, how are fans feeling about the Orange Bowl? Speaking for WVU fans, it seems that a lackluster Big East championship, a midweek game, and opponent with which many WVU fans are unfamiliar has taken some excitement away from this trip to the BCS. Do Clemson fans share some of the same concerns? I have to believe that you guys aren't as stoked to play #23 WVU as you would have been to play, say, #15 Michigan. But is the long drought enough to overcome that?
STS: I'd say y'alls feeling are about the same as ours. The fact that Virginia Tech got a berth in the Sugar Bowl, albeit a good thing financially for the ACC, seemed to sting a little bit. I think most fans would rather travel to New Orleans and face a higher ranked foe with the name brand of Michigan. That being said, Clemson fans respect what WVU has been able to accomplish the past decade and are not overlooking WVU.
The thing that hurts the most is that the game is being played in the middle of the week after a holiday break. I have the week off of work in between Christmas and New Years, so I'm not able to take off time from work the first week after New Years. I'm sure others with jobs, kids, school, etc have the same problems.
I also know that a lot of fans are getting their tickets through sites like stubhub rather than through the school because the prices through the school were considerably more for worse seats.
That being said, when game day rolls around the fans will be stoked no matter what because it's been way too long since Clemson's played in what's felt like a meaningful bowl game.
CR: Traditional picks are boring. The line is Clemson (-3.5) and the over/under is 60.5. Place your bets.
STS: I hate the line with Clemson -3.5. Clemson has been way too hot and cold for me to touch that bet. I'm in a college pick 'em league and I could never seem to get Clemson games right all year long. Therefore, I'm not touching that one here.
But, I love the over here. I think this will be a shoot out. 38-31, 38-34, or 35-28 all seem like reasonable scores to me.
Thanks to ggggmen08 at Shakin the Southland for taking time to answer these. Make sure to stop over there, check out my answers to their questions, educate yourself on Clemson from the enemy's perspective, and engage in some witty banter with their fans, who all seem like genuinely nice and fun folks.