Orange Bowl notebook: Mountaineer defense will focus on star wide receiver
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - There is little doubt about the defensive focus for West Virginia when the Mountaineers play their third BCS game in seven years.
In tonight's Orange Bowl, if No. 23 WVU (9-3) is to upset ACC champion Clemson (10-3), the Mountaineers will need to get a handle on Clemson's freshman All-America first-team pick, receiver and kick returner Sammy Watkins.
West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen called Watkins "one of the faster players in college football ... He is a difference-maker."
WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel echoed that in detail in the days leading up to tonight's 8:30 kickoff.
"Well, he's really fast," Casteel said of Watkins, the ACC Rookie of the Year from Fort Myers.
"He's really athletic, great player. Probably the best kid we've seen, I think. He may be as good as there is in the country as a freshman.
"He has the ability - and they do really a great job of getting him the football in a bunch of different ways. Obviously, they're going to throw him the ball, but he'll get it as a running back, and they're going to screen him. They'll throw the ball down the field, and he goes up and gets it.
"But I think his speed and athleticism are really what probably separates him from guys. And what we can do to stop him is ... I mean, we're going to have to know where he is, but the problem with Clemson is they have three or four other guys you'd better know where they're at, too. They're going to present some challenges.
"They have a quarterback that I think really does a great job. Tajh (Boyd) does a wonderful job of moving in the pocket and keeping things alive.
"He's really talented. We'll have our hands full trying to defend all those guys, and Sammy is probably at the forefront of our thoughts."
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AT THE bowl eve news conference for head coaches Tuesday morning, Holgorsen was asked whether a decision had been made at spur safety to replace two-year starter Terence Garvin, who underwent surgery last month.
"No, not yet," Holgorsen said. "You know, Shaq Petteway has done a good job, Wes Tonkery has done a good job, Matt Moro has done a good job. When you lose Terence Garvin, who was our leading tackler last year and has played a lot of football, you can't just replace him with one guy.
"And all those guys I mentioned are all new guys. Matt is a junior college kid, first year; Wes is a (redshirt) freshman, Shaq is a true freshman. You've got a lot of guys that haven't been put in that situation.
"So what you do is you plug one guy in, see how it works, and then if you need to take him off and calm him down and put somebody else in there, then you need to do that.
"That's just how the game works. You never know how it's going to play out. Guys will get in there and if they're doing good, and things are going your way, you need to keep him in there. If you need to mix it up by putting somebody else in there, then you will."
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HOLGORSEN TALKED Tuesday about how WVU's first Orange Bowl appearance could pay dividends in the game's neighborhood long after tonight.
It was pointed out to him that eight players in the Mountaineer two-deep roster grew up within 20 miles of Sun Life Stadium.
"Yeah, it's a tremendous opportunity to be able to be down here," the first-year WVU coach said. "And we hope that the exposure that's existed, not only from a south Florida standpoint but from a national standpoint, the magnitude of the game, being the only game (tonight), I mean, we all understand that.
"There are going to be a lot of eyes on us. So, we hope that it can not only advertise the program and the school, but also continue to try to lead to as many south Florida recruits as we possibly can (get).
"Obviously there are hundreds of schools that recruit down here for a reason. We all understand that, and we've had a lot of success at getting some guys down here, so hopefully that will not only keep that going but hopefully improve it."
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WVU RECEIVER Stedman Bailey, playing the bowl in his home neighborhood (Miramar) said the Mountaineer passing game hopes to have some success against Clemson's aggressive defense, which Bailey said reminds him of the LSU defense West Virginia faced earlier this season.
"They like to play a lot of man; I guess they just have that much faith in their DBs that they can cover whoever they are facing," said Bailey, who has 67 receptions for a WVU record 1,197 yards this season. "I think it pretty much starts up front.
"They have a pretty good defensive line that does a good job getting pressure on the quarterback and that helps out the corners. Basically, our offensive line has to do a good job protecting Geno (Smith), and as far as us receivers, we have to do a really good job getting open.
"The fact they play man a lot, it's something that LSU did, and they had a pretty good D-line. (Clemson has) a pretty good D-line, so it's kind of similar, and we were able to do a couple of things against LSU. So, we'll be ready to play."
Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said that any adjustments in dealing with WVU's passing game and hurry-up offense will be just tweaks.
"Well, we're going to dance with the one that brung us," Steele said. "I mean, we do what we do. We're multiple, and we're going to pressure you and we're going to play split safety and middle-of-the-field coverage zone. That's what we do.
In terms of the speed of (the WVU offense), there's so much no-huddle offense in college football now.
"In fact, our offense is no-huddle, we practiced against it all camp, we practiced against it in the spring. So we kind of have a system of getting our calls in, getting them in fast, just make sure you get lined up, and then it allows you to do what you've got to do, whatever that is."
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WVU QB Geno Smith said Monday the Mountaineers would do well to continue to recall that last football date with a nationally ranked team nicknamed the Tigers.
WVU lost to visiting LSU 47-21 back on Sept. 24, but then then-No. 2 Tigers, after owning a 27-7 halftime lead, saw the Mountaineers get within 27-21 in the third quarter.
"That's what we realized after the LSU game," Smith said. "We came back, got it close enough to tie against a great team.
"Even though we didn't win the game, it was a lesson for us that no matter what happens, continue to play. In this offense, you can strike so fast, a two-touchdown deficit is easily recovered."
LSU, playing for the BCS title against Alabama next week, is a perfect 4-0 in BCS games. Only four other teams have won as many as two BCS games without a defeat - WVU, Boise State, Auburn and Utah. All are 2-0.
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WEST VIRGINIA carries the Big East banner - reluctantly? - into the Orange Bowl, with the conference owning a 6-7 record in BCS games.
The ACC was 2-11 in BCS history entering Tuesday night's Virginia Tech-Michigan matchup in the Sugar Bowl, followed by Clemson's Orange appearance against WVU tonight.
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THE BOWL captains for West Virginia are juniors Smith and center Joe Madsen, and two seniors - linebacker Najae Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy.
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THE GAME here tonight is counted as the 79th Orange Bowl, although it is only the 78th version of the game that began on New Year's Day in 1935, with Bucknell swamping Miami, 26-0, before 5,134 fans.
Each team received a $12,500 payout. It's now $22.3 million in BCS bucks for each competing conference.
The extra game was the BCS National Championship (Florida-Oklahoma) at the end of the 2008 season, a week after the "regular" Orange Bowl. The Orange Bowl doubles up in its BCS hosting again next season.
The first three Orange Bowls, interestingly, were won by Bucknell, Catholic U., and Duquesne.
Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@Dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.