By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Writer
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen wasn’t even expecting to be a head coach at this time last year.
Or even during spring practice.
Just a year after being hired as coach-in-waiting, and less than six months after taking over the reins, Holgorsen is taking his Mountaineers to the Orange Bowl.
West Virginia (9-3) will meet Clemson (10-3) in the Discover Orange Bowl Wednesday, Jan. 4, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
“I don’t sit and reflect on things, I just keep going full steam ahead,” Holgorsen said Sunday night, after the matchup was announced. “I’m sure when I’m old and gray I’ll sit back and reflect. Right now it’s all about what is in front of us and the next challenge is to get ready to play.”
The two squads have met only one time before, when Danny Ford and the Tigers scored a 27-7 win over WVU in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1989.
It is Clemson’s third appearance in the Orange Bowl and West Virginia’s first.
One thing is almost certain.
This game will produce points.
Both teams’ quarterbacks are in the top 27 in scoring (WVU is 19, averaging 34.9 points, and Clemson 27, averaging 33.62).
“Offensively, I think that’s what people want to see,” Holgorsen said. “But the only way to win is when you stop somebody. I think we are pretty good defensively, and Clemson is good defensively. The one that gets the most stops and the most turnovers will probably win the game.”
“You’ve got two very capable offenses,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “But sometimes when you expect one thing, you get another. We just have to concentrate on getting our plan down. You never know. Sometimes when you have a month off the defenses are a little further ahead earlier in the game. But I would be surprised if points are not scored. I don’t think it is going to be a 6-3 game like some of those games out there.”
The two squads got to the Orange Bowl on much different roads.
West Virginia scored come-from-behind wins over Cincinnati (24-21), Pittsburgh (21-20) and South Florida (30-27) to create a three-way tie for the Big East championship with Cincinnati and Louisville (WVU fell to the Cardinals 38-35 before the three-game win streak to end the season).
The Mountaineers received the berth because they finished higher in the BCS ratings (23rd), which were released Sunday night.
“Since (the Louisville loss) we challenged the guys to get a little more excited about playing the game and coming together when (they) face adversity,” Holgorsen said. “I think the last three (games) we have done that.”
Clemson got to its BCS berth when it defeated Virginia Tech 38-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship Saturday night.
It was the Tigers’ second win over the Hokies this season, accounting for both of Virginia Tech’s losses this season. The Tigers also defeated Tech 23-3 in Blacksburg Oct. 1.
But Clemson, which had started the season with eight straight wins, had struggled down the stretch, losing three of four to end the season. That was before the Tigers exploded in the second half of the ACC title game to trounce the Hokies.
The last time Clemson played in the Orange Bowl, 1981, the Tigers won the national championship, 17 years before the dawn of the BCS.
“We’re excited to not only be representing our conference but also returning to the site of our program’s greatest victory,” Swinney said.
West Virginia is led by record-setting quarterback Geno Smith and a pair of record-setting receivers, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Smith and Bailey are from Miami’s Miramar High School, so it will be a homecoming for the duo.
Smith has completed 314 of 483 passes for 3,978 yards (all records) with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Austin has a record 89 for 1,063 yards and four touchdowns, while Bailey has 67 grabs for a record 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ivan McCartney has 47 catches for 572 yards and three touchdowns.
Freshman Dustin Garrison leads the ground game with 742 yards and six touchdowns. Shawne Alston, who missed the first two games of the season, has rushed for 339 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Clemson is led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, who at one time had committed to WVU.
Boyd has completed 274 of 453 passes for 3,578 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Andre Ellington has rushed for 1,062 yards on 213 carries with 10 touchdowns. Mike Bellamy (57-343-3) and D.J. Howard (40-226-1) provide depth. Boyd had 186 yards and five touchdowns.
Sammy Watkins has been Boyd’s top target, with 77 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns, and DeAndre Hopkins has 62 for 871 and four TDs. Dwayne Allen (48-577-8) and Jaron Brown (29-382-4) also figure into the Tigers’ potent passing attack.
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Tickets for West Virginia’s appearance in the Orange Bowl are now on sale to the general public online at WVUGAME.com.
Available tickets in the WVU allotment are $99 each and can be purchased online at WVUGAME.com or by calling the Mountaineer Ticket Office at 1-800-WVU GAME. Phone sales will begin today at 9 a.m.
A limited number of lower level tickets for WVU students will be available at the Mountaineer Ticket Office in the WVU Coliseum today and will be priced at $110 each. Student tickets must be purchased in person with a valid WVU ID and sales are limited to two tickets per valid student ID.
— E-mail: demorrison@