Watch an Orange Bowl preview, and you're not likely to hear much talk about the defenses that will be taking the field. Clemson and West Virginia are known for their explosive offenses, and rightfully so.
When West Virginia brought in Dana Holgrosen, originally as an offensive coordinator, it was with the hope that the Mountaineers would once again be one of the top offensive teams in the country. While they haven't quite matched the numbers that Holgorsen produced at Oklahoma State, Houston, and Texas Tech, this has become the most prolific offense in the Big East.
"Their offense is very explosive," said Clemson defensive back Coty Sensabaugh. "They run a similar scheme to us, but what stood out most to me was their quarterback, number 12 (Geno Smith). He's a really good player. He can throw the ball well and run the ball. And their receivers. All of their receivers are good. All of those guys are making plays. I know number three (Stedman Bailey) and number one (Tavon Austin) are their go-to men, but all of those guys can play."
The passing game has certainly taken off, but the running game has had trouble with consistency this season. Sensabaugh still gives that area of West Virginia's game credit, though.
"They have a good running back," he said. "Their offensive linemen are really athletic. They move around well, so it's going to be a tough challenge for us on defense."
January 4th should prove to be a tough day for both defenses. West Virginia is known for its seventh-ranked passing game, but Clemson features an offense that is more than capable of lighting up the scoreboard, as well.
The Tigers average more than 33 points per game, and have the ability to score quickly. Their biggest playmaker, freshman Sammy Watkins, burst onto the scene this year as their top receiver and one of the nation's most dangerous return men. For West Virginia, it won't be a matter of stopping Watkins, but hopefully just slowing him down.
One of the defenders that will be asked to do that will be Brodrick Jenkins. Coincidentally, the two grew up together, and were good friends. They've been getting along leading up to the game, but there will likely be some chatter between the two once the game kicks off.
"I mean, there will probably be some friendly conversation out there in terms of trash talk," Jenkins said, laughing. "We're both trying to get that ‘W.'"
Watkins may be the center of attention, but Clemson's offense is full of playmakers that can hurt you. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has shown mobility to go along with his arm, he's got a stable of receivers that are dangerous, and Andre Ellington ran for more than 1,000 yards for the Tigers this season. Focusing solely on Watkins just won't work.
"The film hasn't said it all," Jenkins said of his friend and opponent. "Everyone knows that he's a real big threat. Just trying to focus on him will hurt us because they've got other athletes, too."
As Sensabaugh said, WVU's offense features a number of threats, as well. You can't just hope to stop one guy. Austin was expected to be that top receiver entering the season, and he's had a fine year, but Bailey had a breakout year and has been a nightmare for opposing defenses.
"I feel he's not a very big guy, but he's strong for his size," Sensabaugh said. "Once he catches the ball, he can run really well and has a good stiff arm and has good moves. He goes up and gets the ball well. He goes up and gets the ball like he's 6-3 or 6-4, like he's a really big receiver, so it will be interesting to see how it goes."
The good news for these defenses is that they face these offenses every day in practice. Jenkins has to go up against Smith and his receivers, and Sensabaugh faces Boyd and the rest of Clemson's playmakers. It won't make things easy, but it can't hurt.
"Tajh is a great quarterback and Geno's a great quarterback," Sensabaugh said, "so just going up against a great quarterback every day in practice helps, but when they're similar like they are- can run and throw the ball- that makes it that much better, and a little bit easier, I guess."
It would seem that these teams are destined for a high-scoring shootout. That makes the defenses feel as though they've got something to prove.
"Just go out there and prove a point," said Sensabaugh. "We have a great opportunity to prove a point to everybody in the country. Everybody will be watching, it's the big show, nobody else is playing that night, so it's just a great opportunity."
The offenses may be getting all of the attention leading up to this game, but when it's all said and done, the Orange Bowl could very well come down to which defense can step up, and slow down its opposition.