With fun over, Orange Bowl is focus for West Virginia

| Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — West Virginia has had its share of distractions since traveling last week to South Florida.

The hotel housing the Mountaineers, the Fontainebleau, is filled with celebrities and is next to the beach. The team has been to a Miami Heat game, an all-you-can eat Brazilian steakhouse, a beach party and more.

"You just have to be able to manage things," running back Shawne Alston said. "When it's time to practice, you have to shield everything else out. When it's time to have fun, though, you definitely have to enjoy it.

"You can't be uptight. You just have to turn it on and off. When you go into a team meeting, you can't be thinking about the girls you saw last night or how fun the jet skis were. That goes with maturity."

It's been 31 days since WVU learned it would be playing Clemson 8:38 p.m. Wednesday night in the Orange Bowl.

The Mountaineers, unlike last year at the Champs Sports Bowl, used its full allotment of practices. The first eight practices were used to give younger players more experience and allow the veterans to get healthy.

"I think they did a good job back home keeping us conditioned and keeping us in football shape by practicing and lifting every day," left tackle Don Barclay said. "That plays a big part in it."

In addition, West Virginia has had injury trouble since traveling south. Starting running back Dustin Garrison sprained his ACL and MCL in a noncontact drill. And walk-on receiver Connor Arlia broke his leg in a jet ski accident.

"If we can get them to the game with nobody else getting hurt, we'll be blessed," receivers coach Shannon Dawson said.

On Tuesday night, West Virginia traveled to another hotel, just as it does the day before every game during the regular season, to simulate a normal game week as close as possible.

"I think the biggest thing is doing your absolute best of getting (the team) into a rhythm, understanding the fact that this is a reward, and we want our players to have fun and enjoy it," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said, "but also understand that we're not going to occupy eight hours a day of football time. That's almost impossible to do."

Holgorsen named team captains this week — linebacker Najee Goode, center Joey Madsen, quarterback Geno Smith and cornerback Keith Tandy — and talked to them about being responsible leaders.

"It's a busy place, and there's a lot to do," Holgorsen said. "There's going to be situations out there to where you're going to have to make decisions on whether you do the right thing or do the wrong thing. That's no different here than it is in Morgantown (W.Va.) throughout the course of the week."

Madsen added: "There's more distractions this year, but we're focusing in and just doing what we have to do. We're here for one reason, and that's to win a game."

Orange Bowl scouting report

No. 14 Clemson vs. No. 23 West Virginia

When/where: 8 p.m. Wednesday/Sun Life Stadium, Miami

TV/radio: ESPN/WVAQ-FM (101.9), WBGG-AM (970), Mountaineer Sports Network

Line: Clemson by 3

Records: Clemson 10-3, West Virginia 9-3

Series: Clemson leads, 1-0

Notable: The Tigers are making their first appearance in a major bowl since January 1982, when they beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for their lone national title. The Mountaineers will try to improve to 3-0 in BCS games. ... Clemson QB Tajh Boyd threw for 3,541 yards and 30 scores and ranked 18th in total offense. His targets include first-team All-Americans Sammy Watkins and Dwayne Allen. The Mountaineers, ranked 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense, is led by Bruce Irvin (7 12 sacks), Justin Miller (6.0 sacks) and Keith Tandy (12 career interceptions). ... The Tigers climbed to sixth in the rankings by winning their first eight games. The Mountaineers, making their 10th consecutive bowl appearance, were ranked as high as 11th. ... Clemson won its first ACC title in 20 years, and it won 10 games for the first time in a decade. ... West Virginia rushing leader Dustin Garrison will miss the game with a left knee injury. Shawne Alston is expected to start in his place.

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