WVU, Clemson looking at mirror
MORGANTOWN - At least statistically speaking, the similarities between West Virginia and Clemson are striking.
But it goes beyond more than mere numbers.
"They are similar to us,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "In fact, I think they're incredibly similar to us.''
That should make for an interesting game when the teams meet Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl.
As far as those numbers go, West Virginia averaged 34.9 points per game and Clemson 33.6. Both teams gave up an average of 26.2 points. The Mountaineers averaged just 19 yards more per game in total offense with a stronger emphasis on the pass. The Tigers allowed about 40 yards per game more in total offense.
"Even if you look at the schedules and the common opponents it's pretty similar,'' Holgorsen said.
Indeed, each team had two losses in conference and a non-league defeat at the hands of an SEC team (WVU against LSU and Clemson against South Carolina). As for the only common opponent, each team won at Maryland in a close game - WVU 37-31 and Clemson 56-45.
"I think we match up pretty well,'' Holgorsen said. "I think offensively we're two pretty exciting teams and then defensively it's the only way you can win a championship, if you have good quality defense.''
But as far as styles are concerned there are some differences. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who for a time was committed to WVU during his senior season of high school, is more of a dual threat than is West Virginia's Geno Smith. One of Clemson's best players is tight end Dwayne Allen, who won the Mackey Award as the country's best at his position. West Virginia doesn't even use a tight end.
But each has a versatile big-play threat who catches passes, runs the ball and returns kicks. For West Virginia it is Tavon Austin. For Clemson it is the only Miami-area native on the roster, freshman Sammy Watkins.
"They have the quarterback, who is a talented kid. He makes play and keeps the play alive,'' Holgorsen said. "He can throw it and he can scramble. They run him more than we run Geno. They have a great tight end, and Sammy Watkins is one of the faster players in college football.''
As far as offensive schemes, Clemson looks a lot like Pitt, but with much better skill players. There's a reason for that. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is from the Gus Malzahn school of offense and both worked for former Pitt coach Todd Graham at Tulsa.
"It's the same background offensively that we faced with Pitt,'' Holgorsen said. "Chad Morris was under Todd Graham at Tulsa and has learned a lot from Gus Malzahn, as did Todd Graham. It's all very similar, which is challenging because they run the ball a good bit and they use misdirection, but they will throw it down field quite a bit, too.''
Clemson has had its issues on defense, of course, having allowed six of its 13 opponents to score 30 points or more. But it was also a defense that in eight quarters against Sugar Bowl-bound Virginia Tech surrendered just 13 points - a 23-3 win in the regular season and a 38-10 rout in the ACC title game.
"Probably their D-line is as talented as we have seen,'' Holgorsen said. "Andre Branch is a guy that when he turns it on can get upfield much like a guy that we have [Bruce Irvin] on defense. They have a lot of secondary guys that are athletic and do a good job of covering the space and closing on the ball quickly.''
As for special teams, well, the biggest similarity there is in the return specialists. Both Austin and Watkins can make a game-changing play at any time. Austin returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and ranked fourth in the country in punt returns. Watkins returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
"They have return guys, which are the same guys we talked about on their offense, that are dynamic and we have to be able to cover,'' Holgorsen said. "But they're probably talking at their place that they have to cover, too. Last time I checked we have a pretty good return guy, too.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.