By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Dana Holgorsen has been to his share of bowl games, but the Discover Orange Bowl was one that had eluded him.
In his first season as the head coach at West Virginia, Holgorsen led the 22nd-ranked Mountaineers to a 9-3 record and a share of the Big East championship, and the school’s first BCS bowl appearance since the 2008 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.
The Mountaineers will face ACC champion and No. 14-ranked Clemson (10-3) in the Orange Bowl on Wednesday in Miami.
Holgorsen definitely understand the history of the Orange Bowl, which includes Clemson winning its lone national championship in Miami in 1981 in a win over Nebraska.
“I’ve been to some pretty good (bowls) and everybody I’ve talked to across the country — whether they have been in this game or not — says this is one of the most anticipated games in all of the bowl season,” said Holgorsen, who figures he’s been in 12 or 13 bowl games in a row. “That is due to the fact that they’ve been playing games here since 1935, having national championships and games I grew up watching.
“It’s going to be a pretty good experience. You can tell from the festive environment right now that all of these guys in orange coats take it pretty seriously.
“They want everybody to have a good time.”
Both teams want a good time, but both also realize the trip to Florida is a business trip, with the task at hand being to win on Wednesday night. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.
While Clemson has never played in a BCS bowl since the system began in 1998, the Mountaineers have been in two, winning the Sugar Bowl over Georgia in 2006, and clobbering Oklahoma two years later.
West Virginia senior linebacker Najee Goode, who was part of that win over the Sooners, thinks that is an advantage for his Mountaineers.
“That’s a big thing because we’ve been to a BCS game,” Goode said. “Josh Taylor, Keith Tandy and I, that’s got to be something we talk about as soon as we get into the hotel.
“When we have our team meeting we have got to let the guys know we are down here to have fun, have a good time, but at the same time we play a football game on the 4th.”
While there’s no expectation to be 123 points scored, as there were on Thursday night when Baylor beat Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl, this contest features two teams with prolific offensive attacks.
After enjoying a Christmas break, Holgorsen felt like the Mountaineers were ready to get back to football in preparation for the Tigers.
“Yeah, I think so. I mean they better be,” said Holgorsen, after the team arrived in Florida on Thursday. “The magnitude of this game is not going to take care of itself.
“We have to go get settled into the hotel and give them their itineraries and make sure they understand that they need to be where they are supposed to be when we tell them to be there.”
That shouldn’t be a problem, according to West Virginia offensive lineman Don Barclay.
“Everyone’s excited. Everyone was looking out the window (of the plane) seeing all the oranges and everything,” Barclay said. “This is a great atmosphere, the weather is nice and everyone’s pumped to get this game on.”
The offenses are expected to be featured.
West Virginia is 19th in the nation in scoring (34.92) and 17th in total yards (459.58), while ranking seventh (341.83) through the air, but just 100th on the ground (117.75).
The quarterback matchup will get plenty of pre-game hype. West Virginia’s Geno Smith has thrown for 3,919 yards, 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, while Tahj Boyd — who originally committed to West Virginia (and Tennessee) before settling on Clemson — has thrown for 3,578 yards, 31 touchdowns and 11 picks.
Smith has plenty of weapons on his side, including receivers Stedman Bailey (67-1,197, 11 TD), Tavon Austin (89-1,063, 4 TD) and Ivan McCartney (47-572, 3 TD). Freshman Dustin Garrison leads the Mountaineers in rushing with 742 yards and six scores, while Shawne Alston has 339 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Tavon Austin is also ranked among the nation’s best as a return specialist having returned two kicks for scores.
Clemson is somewhat more balanced, scoring 33.6 points a game, which is 25th in America. They’re 28th (440.62 yards per game) in total offense, including 21st (284.77) passing and 61st (155.85) rushing.
The Tigers bring a high-powered offense that is coming off a 38-10 win over Virginia Tech — their second win of the season over the Sugar Bowl-bound Hokies — to win their first ACC championship since 1991.
Boyd also has plenty of reinforcements, led by sensational freshman receiver Sammy Watkins (77-1,153, 11 TD), who is also a force as a return specialist.
There is also All-America tight end Dwayne Allen (48-577, 8 TD). DeAndre Hopkins (62-871, 4 TD) was injured in a crash last week, but is expected to play.
Andre Ellington leads Clemson on the ground with 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Both defenses will face tall tasks against those offenses. Clemson allowed 28 or more points in six straight games before holding the Hokies to 10, while the Mountaineers at least 20 in their last half-dozen games, and they’ll be without defensive back Terance Garvin, who has undergone season-ending knee surgery.
As the teams arrived in Florida on Thursday, the conversation — at least among the West Virginia contingent — was simply being in the Sunshine State.
“I had a great time off, a great Christmas,” Goode said. “I got to go home and see family. Everybody got to relax a little bit, but there is nothing better than getting to come down (to South Florida) and spend a little vacation in Miami.”
That topic was expected to change the next day.
West Virginia won its final three games by combined seven points and secured the Orange Bowl berth by sharing the Big East crown with Louisville and Cincinnati. Their higher ranking in the BCS rankings landed them in Florida.
“I’m just excited to be here. I’m thanking God for the opportunity to play in a game like this,” Goode said. “We get to have a little fun while we are down here, but we’ve got to stay on the task at hand and stay focused.”
West Virginia is 13-17 all-time in bowl games, but has won four its last six appearances, losing the last two to Florida State and N.C. State.
Goode has reminded the underclassmen to enjoy the BCS experience.
“Stop and smell the roses. You have got to take every bit of this in because this is going to drive you to get back to it next year,” Goode said.
“Our freshman year we went to (a BCS game) and we had some stumbles along the way, but my senior year we are back in another BCS championship.”
Holgorsen knows how important this game is to the Mountaineers in terms of recruiting the fertile football fields of Florida.
“The exposure in South Florida is big. Obviously this is a big recruiting base for us and we have at least a dozen kids from this area,” he said. “Just the overall aspect of a BCS game, the Orange Bowl — dating back to 1935 — and having a tremendous amount of exposure on national TV and historically having just as many good games they’ve had over the course of the last 80 years is something we understand and respect.
“The overall exposure from a national standpoint is every bit as important as it is from a local standpoint.”
There’s another reason the seniors want to win in what is West Virginia’s first trip to the Orange Bowl. The Florida native certainly don’t want their last game to be loss in their home state.
“They talk about it all the time. Eain Smith always tells me, even I dropped him off at the airport for break, ‘we can’t lose this game,’” Goode said. “I told him we aren’t going to lose it.
“Hands down we are not going to lose this because he can’t come back home for the rest of his life and hear that we lost a BCS game in the Orange Bowl.”
— Contact Brian Woodson