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Orange Bowl: Three Keys for WVU

1/4/2012

You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson:

1. Get into rhythm. It's hard to keep up all your momentum when more than a month has passed between football games, especially when your offense is so dependent on rhythm and timing. Nobody really knows how the long layoff is going to impact this offense, but coach Dana Holgorsen has said all week that his team has done all it can to prepare for this game. What really will help rhythm is protecting quarterback Geno Smith, who doesn't do so well when he's flustered and out of the pocket. "We need to dominate," center Joe Madsen said. What also will help is the short passing game out of the backfield, an area that West Virginia is going to have to adjust with Dustin Garrison out.

2. Safety help. By now you already know how much of a blow it is for West Virginia to be without starting safety Terence Garvin, a two-year starter with 72 tackles this season and 3.5 sacks. West Virginia has no experienced players to fill in at the spur position, so the Mountaineers will go with a rotation of Shaq Petteway, Wes Tonkery and Matt Moro. There could be other tinkering as well, as the game wears on. Clemson, of course, averages 284.8 passing yards a game, and has explosive players like Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Dwayne Allen. Getting pressure up front is going to really help take pressure off the back end, and players like Keith Tandy and Brodrick Jenkins are also going to have to step up from their corner positions as well.

3. Be special. It cannot be stated enough how big a role special teams plays in any game, most especially one with teams as evenly matched as Clemson and West Virginia. The Mountaineers have been shaky at times in this category, and cannot afford another bad punting game -- especially with a good punter in Dawson Zimmerman on the other sideline. It will be great to see the kickoff return duel between Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin. Watkins has one kickoff return for touchdown this season; Austin has two. One of these players could decide the game in this hugely important phase.