CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia's secondary has had its challenges this season. Nothing will compare to what the Mountaineers are up against when they face Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
All-Americans Sammy Watkins and Dwayne Allen are the latest standout receivers West Virginia will face in a bowl game when the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers meet No. 14 Clemson on Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl.
Watkins' speed and field awareness has enabled him to amass 1,153 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman while proving to be one of the nation's most dangerous kickoff returners.
"He is a difference maker," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "There is no question."
The Mountaineers have about a half-dozen practices left to figure out a scheme that might slow down Watkins and his teammates. And they'll have to do it without two-year starter Terence Garvin at safety.
Garvin had knee surgery after the final regular-season game and the junior will require six months of rehabilitation. Redshirt freshman Wes Tonkery and freshman Shaq Petteway will battle for Garvin's spot in the bowl.
Clemson has surpassed 35 points eight times this season, and Watkins is confident it can happen again.
"If we play on all cylinders and everyone is doing their job, I think we can put up a lot of points on these guys," he said.
Despite being slowed by a sore shoulder near the end of the regular season, Watkins was the Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year and a first-team All-America selection as an all-purpose player by The Associated Press.
Few know him better than West Virginia cornerback Brodrick Jenkins. They were high school teammates in Fort Myers, Fla.
They played two years of football together, ran track and hung out after school. Watkins, of course, was a sprinter, while Jenkins ran the hurdles and with Watkins on relays.
The first time Jenkins saw Watkins run the 100 meters, he clocked 10.7 seconds. Jenkins said he never beat Watkins in a race.
Outsmarting him on the football field also has proven to be difficult.
"He knows what to do when he has the ball in his hand," Jenkins said. "He knows how to get open and be able to help exploit teams. When he has to deal with pressure, he's good with it."
So Jenkins didn't hesitate in saying that Watkins will be the most dangerous receiver the Mountaineers will face this season. And explaining it to his teammates isn't necessary.
"I don't need to tell them anything," Jenkins said. "Just look at the tape and they'll know."
Cornerback Keith Tandy, who leads the Mountaineers in interceptions and pass breakups, knows.
"You can see the type of athlete he is," Tandy said. "You can see when he runs the double moves, he's real good at that. His athleticism is like something different that we're not used to seeing."
Of course, Clemson (10-3) also has quarterback Tajh Boyd and his other targets, including Allen, the John Mackey Award winner who had 48 catches for 577 yards and eight scores, all school records for a tight end. There's also 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington and 871-yard receiver DeAndre Hopkins to worry about.
Nearly one of every five completions thrown by Boyd have gone for 20 yards or more.
"You don't have to watch a whole lot of film to understand they've got playmakers all over the place," said West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "Obviously, they're very, very talented — and deep — and they're guys that can run. We'll have our work cut out for us. That's the bad thing. Sometimes it can ruin your holidays getting ready for these type of games. It's going to be a challenge trying to defend them."
West Virginia (9-3) has faced top-notched receivers twice in bowls in the past six seasons. The Mountaineers won both times but got burned in the secondary.
North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks caught eight passes for 217 yards and three TDs in a 31-30 loss to the Mountaineers in the 2008 Meineke Bowl.
Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson had 186 yards receiving and two TDs in a 38-35 loss to West Virginia in the Gator Bowl to conclude the 2006 season.
While Watkins had five 100-yard receiving games this season, the Mountaineers surrendered only one, and the most catches an opposing receiver had were six on three occasions.
"All we have to do is try to stop the big plays," Jenkins said. "That's what that team is about — big plays. Once you minimize the big plays, I think we'll be OK."