By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. —
Now we know why the Atlantic Coast Conference did not want West Virginia University as a member.
It was a matter of survival.
The Mountaineers took the champions of the league that stole Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Pitt and Syracuse, a favored team from Clemson, and annihilated the orange-clad and red-faced Tigers, 70-33, tearing them apart and picking the meat from their bones in an offensive explosion that had to measure somewhere around 8.3 on the Richter scale.
As Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com tweeted, “(ACC Commissioner) John Swofford is so mad he just took SMU from the Big East.”
Quarterback Geno Smith, playing just miles from his childhood home in Miami, was the game MVP as he rewrote the Orange Bowl record book and etched his name alongside some all-time greats in bowl history.
Smith’s six touchdown passes broke the Orange Bowl and BCS record set by Matt Leinart of USC and tied the record for any bowl game while his 401 passing yards broke the Orange Bowl record of 369 yards set by a Michigan quarterback named Tom Brady.
Four of Smith’s touchdowns went to slot receiver Tavon Austin, which was a BCS and Orange Bowl record. He also threw touchdowns to Stedman Bailey and Willie Milhouse.
Smith completed 31 of 42 passes for 401 yards to become the first WVU quarterback to ever throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season, reaching 4,379 yards. That is also a Big East record.
It was a magnificent victory for first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen, who wasn’t even supposed to be head coach this year until circumstances put him into the job. But Holgorsen shied away from taking any of the credit, even though this was his offense finally reaching all its potential.
“This wasn’t about me,” Holgorsen said. “It’s about those seniors who wanted to lay the ground work for where we are headed as a football team. I can’t imagine the future could be any brighter than it is at West Virginia.”
“We definitely made strides and let people know that we are contenders next year,” Smith said.
The Mountaineers actually got off to a slow start but made up for it once the first quarter turned into the second. After trailing 17-14 entering the second quarter, WVU outscored Clemson 56-16 the rest of the way to record a 70-33 victory.
Incredibly, with all that offense, the game’s biggest play came from the Mountaineer defense as safety Darwin Cook stripped the football from Andre Ellington on the WVU 1 and returned it an Orange Bowl record 99 yards for a touchdown that ripped the heart out of Clemson.
If that play turned the game, and Clemson would have taken a 24-21 lead had it scored, the offense took care of business.
The first half was one for the history books as the two teams combined for 69 points, the most in BCS bowl history. West Virginia had 49 of them, the most ever scored in a half in the history of the bowls, as the Mountaineers took a 49-20 lead.
If it could happen, it did happen in this half, perhaps the most amazing thing being that WVU accumulated 343 yards ... and had only 16 more total yards than Clemson.
Hidden in there, however, was an Orange Bowl record 99-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Cook, that not showing in the yardage.
In the half, Austin scored three touchdowns of 8, 27 and 3 yards, all on passes from Smith. Smith also ran for a touchdown of 7 yards and running back Shawne Alston ran for two touchdowns of 4 and 1 yards.
It was Clemson that actually got things off to an electrifying start when running back Andre Ellington broke loose through the middle for a 68-yard TD but WVU barely blinked, riding a spectacular catch and run by freshman running back Andrew Buie, who was tackled but somehow rolled over the defender and sprung back to his feet without touching the ground and took the ball to the Clemson 10, setting up Alston’s first score.
From there it was no holds barred on the scoring, with the biggest play being the one made by the defense. WVU was leading 21-17 with 10:38 left in the half but Clemson was knocking on the door, Ellington struggling to bang his way into the end zone.
That was when Cook, a sophomore safety, pried the football loose and burst loose from the pack, streaking 99 yards to the longest defense touchdown in Orange Bowl history, giving the Mountaineers a 28-17 lead.
From then on everything went crazy as WVU outscored Clemson 35-3 in the second quarter, putting the final three touchdowns on the board in the final 2 minutes and 29 seconds of the half.
Not about to pull the plug, WVU came out and marched down the field with the second half kickoff, scoring again on a 6-yard pass from Smith to Bailey to increase the lead to 56-20.
As for that snub by the ACC that forced the Mountaineers to look to the Big 12 to escape the Big East, consider this note.
The victory was the Mountaineers’ third BCS triumph, having previously beaten Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The entire ACC has two BCS victories.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.