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WVU has a matchup dilemma with Clemson

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By Josh Sickles
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011
 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is going to be difficult for West Virginia to defend. He's a dual-threat, do-everything quarterback who has thrown for more than 3,500 yards and rushed for 186 yards and five touchdowns.

The hard part, though, isn't only containing Boyd but also the athletes who surround him.

"They're a talented football team," West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "They have home-run hitters throughout the lineup, and they're a handful."

No. 23 West Virginia (9-3) will be challenged to contain the Tigers' many talented offensive weapons when facing No. 14 Clemson (10-3) in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4.

"They make you defend, really, every inch of the field," Casteel said. "They're going to give you a lot of different formations and try to create some matchups favorable to them."

The Mountaineers actually already have seen Clemson's offense this season when they faced Pitt in the Backyard Brawl. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris ran the offense last season at Tulsa under former Pitt coach Todd Graham.

The difference is Clemson has more athletes, making it more difficult for defenses.

"They've got three or four receivers they can throw to, the best tight end in the nation and two or three athletic running backs," senior cornerback Keith Tandy said. "You've got to be prepared for almost anything."

The player who stands out is receiver Sammy Watkins. A true freshman, Watkins has established himself as one of the top receivers in the nation by catching 77 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Watkins has rare talent. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound receiver is one of the fastest receivers in the nation and can be a game-changer. Some defensive players compared him to West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin.

Watkins missed a game and was limited with a shoulder injury in three others late in the season. Clemson went 1-3 in those games.

"You take Sammy Watkins out of the game, they'll have a hard time winning," redshirt senior free safety Eain Smith said.

Clemson also boasts redshirt junior tight end Dwayne Allen, who had 48 receptions for 577 yards and eight touchdowns. Allen won the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top tight end. He's even harder to defend because he lines up in different positions.

The Tigers also boast a solid rushing attack with Andre Ellington. The redshirt junior has rushed for 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns to complement Clemson's passing attack.

West Virginia's defensive players said they feel like they are ready. Defending Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney in practice will do that, they said.

"I feel like we have the best receiving corps in college football," Smith said. "If we can cover Tavon, Steddy B or even Sticks (McCartney), we can cover anybody."

Note: Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins is recovering from a concussion after a car wreck on the way to meet his teammates for a trip to Florida for the Orange Bowl. Hopkins is Clemson's second-leading receiver, with 62 receptions for 871 yards and four touchdowns this season. Coach Dabo Swinney said he did not know Hopkins' status for the game.

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