Column - Will WVU take talents to South Beach?
Published: Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 5, 2011 23:12
What a difference three games makes.
After the first week of November, No. 23 West Virginia was coming off of a tough 38-35 home loss to Louisville for its second Big East conference loss of the season.
The Mountaineers could have packed it in and called this year was a failure because they didn't go undefeated in conference play like they could have- or maybe should have. They didn't, though. And they're going to the Discover Orange Bowl to play the Clemson Tigers because of it.
As crazy as watching West Virginia has driven me this year, the way this team has shown amazing resilience and determination over the last month has me leaning toward them having success against Clemson on Jan. 4.
It's not going to be easy, because it hasn't been during the Mountaineers last three victories.
Part of me is still curious as to which team will come to play. Will it be the mistake-prone Mountaineers that got dominated by an awful Syracuse team? Or the gritty, never-give-up team that made big plays against South Florida.
They've come a long way since the loss to Syracuse. It doesn't seem like they'll come out anywhere near that flat in Miami, especially since half of the team played high school just 3.1 miles away (well not half, but pretty darn close.)
All of the families and friends of those players will be in the crowd, screaming, holding signs and cheering on their sons, cousins and hometown heroes for four hours.
You have to think: this is one huge motivator for guys like redshirt sophomore wide receivers Stedman Bailey, junior Tavon Austin, junior quarterback Geno Smith and redshirt senior safety Eain Smith.
For others, like senior defensive ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, it's their chance to leave their college careers on top, and it's their last chance to show NFL scouts that they are worthy of being drafted in March.
Oh, and not that any of the players or coaches are thinking about this, but Clemson starting quarterback Tajh Boyd committed to West Virginia in 2009, but then withdrew his commitment and chose the Tigers. So, a win over Boyd could make the West Virginia faithful feel much better about his decision not to come to Morgantown.
The game will almost certainly be a high-scoring battle. Smith and West Virginia's offense ranked 17th in the nation in total offense, and Clemson ranked 29th in total offense.
Smith has thrown for 3,978 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. He is ranked ninth in the country in total offense and 22nd in passing efficiency. Boyd has been just as impressive, throwing for 3,541 yards and 30 touchdowns. He ranked 19th in the country in total offense and 30th in passing efficiency.
Smith and Boyd have some pretty impressive receivers to throw to as well. Clemson freshman receiver Sammy Watkins finished the regular season with 77 catches for a whopping 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. Smith had two prime targets in WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen's "Air Raid" offense in Bailey and Austin.
Austin finished with 1,063 yards receiving and four touchdowns, while Bailey hauled in 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns.
It will be a tough task for these defenses to stop the opposing offenses, but it sure won't be hard to see an exciting, up-tempo game.
West Virginia has plenty of time to prepare. Will the Mountaineers play up to the task like they have over the last month?
The state can only hope for another wild and wonderful West Virginia football game in the BCS.