West Virginia running over Clemson at Orange Bowl
MIAMI—West Virginia put on a scoring show unlike any other in college football's postseason history at the Orange Bowl.
With 49 points by halftime -- a record for any half of any bowl game -- the Mountaineers took complete control and led Clemson 63-26 after three quarters of the Orange Bowl on Wednesday night.
Geno Smith threw five touchdown passes, four of them going to Tavon Austin, who tied another bowl record with that many scoring receptions. And to think: The Mountaineers trailed 17-14 after the first quarter, before peeling off 49 of the next 52 points.
The 63 points by the Mountaineers, 89 combined points by both teams and 12 combined touchdowns were all Orange Bowl records -- and that's with 15 minutes left to play, too.
And maybe the most impressive part of West Virginia's scoring show was that the most dazzling of the touchdowns came from a defender.
Early in the second quarter, West Virginia's Darwin Cook snuffed out a potential Clemson touchdown, created a turnover, ran into the Orange Bowl record books and tackled the overstuffed orange that serves as the game's mascot.
All on the same play, no less.
Cook stripped the ball from Clemson's Andre Ellington near the goal line, turned and ran 99 yards for a West Virginia touchdown early in the second quarter -- part of a 35-3 edge in those 15 minutes alone for the Mountaineers, who were closing in on their third win of a Bowl Championship Series game in the last seven seasons.
Smith also ran for a score for the Mountaineers. Shawne Alston ran for two touchdowns in the first half, the second coming with 4 seconds left. The 49 first-half points topped the previous one-half (excluding overtime) bests in any bowl game, a pair of 45-point efforts put up by Oklahoma State against Wyoming in the 1988 Holiday Bowl and Colorado against Boston College in the 1999 Insight.com Bowl.
"We're not playing well anywhere," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said as he left the field for the first half.
Everything seemed to change on a play where Clemson thought it scored.
With Clemson having first-and-goal from the West Virginia 3, Ellington followed a mass of blockers toward the goal line, getting so close to breaking the plane at that at least two Tigers raised their arms in celebration in the touchdown signal.
They were right. Premature, and for the wrong team, but right nonetheless.
Cook grabbed the ball away from Ellington and took off on what became the longest defensive score in Orange Bowl history, a yard longer than Greg Mather's 98-yard fumble return for Navy in 1961. And at the end of the play, Cook wound up tackling Obie -- the overstuffed orange mascot for the game.
The woman inside the mascot costume later said she was fine.
The orange-clad crew on the Clemson sideline couldn't say the same.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was intercepted with 2:13 left in the half, Smith flipped the ball to Austin for a 3-yard touchdown pass a minute later, and the West Virginia lead was up to a whopping 42-20 -- not even a full quarter after the Mountaineers were trailing 17-14. Boyd fumbled the ball away again not long afterward, setting up the seventh West Virginia touchdown.
Smith threw a touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey to open the second-half scoring, then hooked up with Austin for their fourth score of the night. Austin came into the game with four touchdowns all season.
Among the many things that Swinney and West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen agreed on in the weeks leading up to the game was that the Orange Bowl wouldn't be lacking for offense.
Yep, they were right.
Ellington's first three carries of the night delivered a total of zero yards. His fourth went into the Orange Bowl record books, a 68-yard untouched burst for a touchdown that was the third-longest scoring run in the game's history.
Undeterred, West Virginia answered quickly, thanks in large part to a spectacular play by Andrew Buie, who caught a pass from Smith and was tackled at the Clemson 28 by Tigers safety Rashard Hall. Small problem: Hall's body hit the ground, but Smith's never did, other than his hand. He rolled off Hall, sprung back to his feet and darted about another 15 yards, helping set up Alston's first rushing score.
Imagine: By halftime, that play was all but forgotten. Clemson hadn't given up 49 points in a game -- forget a half -- since losing 55-15 to Texas Tech in 2002.
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