Clemson was no match for the Mountaineers on this night in the South Beach suburbs, as WVU made monumental play after monumental play in the second quarter. It turned what was a 17-14 deficit after one quarter into a staggering 49-20 lead by halftime.
It was an explosion of historic proportions, the 49 points in a half the most in the history of all bowl games. Ever.
That was just one of the first of a series of records that were no more by the time this Orange Bowl ended. West Virginia’s 70 points were the most in the history of bowl games and 14 more than any other team had ever scored in a BCS game.
Geno Smith beat the Orange Bowl passing record of former Michigan QB Tom Brady, throwing for 401 yards. He tossed another game-record six touchdowns. He was never sacked and did not throw an interception in a performance that earned him the game’s Most Valuable Player honors.
And those statistics were just the start. The Orange Bowl’s media relations staffers passed out a list of records broken that was two full pages long, in small, single-spaced type.
“That’s exactly how we draw it up, right?” Dana Holgorsen said, a BCS bowl champion in his first season as a head coach at any level.
The Big East Conference champions (playing perhaps for the last time while a member of that league) scored 21 points in the last 2:30 of the half. They sent those wearing gold and blue into a frenzy and left those in orange looking much like fans of Georgia and Oklahoma did in 2006 and 2008, respectively: dumbfounded.
Offensive Player of the Game
401 passing yards
26 rushing yards
7 total TDs
“It just snowballed quickly,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
The bludgeoning only continued in the second half, with the margin growing to 43 points before the midpoint of the third quarter. Facing a fourth-and-5 with about 23 minutes left and down 63-20, CU’s Dabo Swinney essentially waved the white flag when he sent his punting unit on.
All that was left was for the clock to run out. When it did, West Virginia players poured onto the field, donning grey “Orange You Glad We Won” T-shirts. Much like they did after an upset win in the ’08 Fiesta Bowl, some held signs they had written on dry erase boards, declaring the 83 percent of people who predicted Clemson to win this game on ESPN.com “wrong.”
"I kind of got mad and turned off the TV and went to sleep," receiver Tavon Austin said of his reaction to the country's thoughts, repeatedly referring to how proud he was to prove this team's doubters wrong once more.
Indeed, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
The game turned on its head just as it looked like Clemson was about to reclaim the lead in a back-and-forth first half. The Tigers’ Andre Ellington was churning his legs near the goal line when he lost the ball, and WVU safety Darwin Cook picked it up and ran 99 yards for a touchdown.
He took the game with him.
“That was a big, big play,” Swinney said. “All of a sudden, it was 28-17, and all of a sudden we had another turnover here and there. It just snowballed quickly.”
Defensive Player of the Game
4 total tackles
1 fumble recovery
99-yard TD return
“I think we’re pretty tough to beat when all three sides of the ball play together, when defense is rooting for offense and and offense is rooting for defense,” Holgorsen said.
Momentum shifted completely after that one play. The Mountaineers’ lead, which was 21-17 before that, ballooned to 63-20 in the early stages of the third quarter.
Smith ran for a 7-yard touchdown. Tavon Austin ran in from three yards out on a forward flip pass. Shawne Alston bullied his way into the end zone with four seconds left in the first half. Stedman Bailey caught a 6-yard scoring pass. Austin, left uncovered, juked a safety and easily walked in for a 37-yard TD.
All the while, West Virginia’s defense -- shaky early -- was putting the clamps down. Clemson scored only three points in a span of 29 minutes while WVU was busy putting the game away.
"Throughout the year, we've been able to play good defense," linebacker Najee Goode said. "It's a bend-but-don't-break method, and we get down in the red zone and we're able to capitalize on certain things like fumbles and turnovers."
The Mountaineers needed only 8:11 of game time to put the game out of reach. They did so with a flurry of 35 points, unanswered by the Tigers. By the time it was over, the spaces where many orange-clad Clemson fans had sat were occupied only by Sun Life’s Stadium matching orange seats.
Smith led WVU’s cast statistically, but Austin may have been the best player on the field. He finished with 117 receiving yards and four touchdowns and another 46 rushing yards. Bailey had another 82 yards and a touchdown, and Willie Milhouse finished with 71 yards and a score.
Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, a former Mountaineer commit at quarterback, finished 24-of-46 for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked three times, picked off twice and fumbled once.
This was West Virginia’s third BCS bowl win in six years -- one more than the ACC has earned in the history of the BCS system.
"We played against some of the best teams in the nation: Georgia. Oklahoma. Clemson,” Goode said, still celebrating on the field as he finished his career on a high note. “And we won all three.”