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Clemson's Orange Bowl Defeat Caps Another Disappointing Season


by Josh Kipnis

Michigan players were rocking shirts that read “Pour some Sugar on me.”  After their victory in LA, the Oregon Ducks “Rose to power.”  Oklahoma State proclaimed to Stanford fans that the Fiesta Bowl was “Nacho Victory.”

West Virginia asked Clemson, “Orange you glad we won?”

On Wednesday night, the West Virginia Mountaineers crushed the Clemson Tigers, 70-33 (Trust me, it’s not a typo).  As I watched the game, I kept staring at the bottom of the screen.  “70-33” just doesn’t look normal on a scoreboard, in any sport.  Even in basketball, the average points Clemson allows per game is less than 70.

The game was expected to be an offensive shootout, but no one could have predicted a score of this magnitude.  “Never could we imagine we’d put up seventy points,” WVU quarterback Geno Smith said after the game.  Seventy is the highest total a team has ever scored in an NCAA bowl game.

The Mountaineers didn’t just put a slight tear in the record books, they threw them all in the shredder. West Virginia broke nine different bowl game records.

On a night when seventy points are scored, it is tough to pinpoint only one star.  As WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen put it, “you score seventy points by being good on all three sides of the ball.”  In the star-filled galaxy of the Orange Bowl, Geno Smith was, however, the biggest and brightest—the North Star, if you will.

Smith went 31 of 42 with 401 yards, 6 passing TDs, and 1 rushing TD (tying records for TD passes, total TDs, and points scored).  Tavon Austin was on the receiving end of four of those touchdowns, tying the record for TD catches in a bowl game.  Safety Darwin Cook also shined in the sky, returning a fumble 99 yards.

Clemson led 17-14 at the end of the first quarter, but the Tigers lost all ability to pounce on their opponents in the second.

The pivotal moment in the game was Cook’s fumble recovery.  The 99-yard play gave the Mountaineers a 28-17 lead in the 2nd quarter.  “It was a pretty big moment,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.  “They hadn’t really stopped us [before that].  That was huge.  Then it snowballed quickly.”  Clemson was outscored 35-3 in the second, breaking the previous record for number of points allowed in one quarter of a bowl game.

West Virginia scored three times in the final 2:29 of the first half.  Heading into the locker room, the score was 49-20 (most points by a team in a half and most combined points in a half). 

The halftime entertainment featured “the fat lady” singing.

Last season, the Clemson defense ranked thirteenth in the country, allowing 18.77 points per game.  To coach Swinney, it must’ve felt like ages ago.  “We’re a better team than we played tonight,” he said after the embarrassment.  “Just too many mistakes.  But we’ll be back.”

But should they even be allowed back?  ACC teams are 2-13 all-time in BCS bowl games; that is last among automatic-qualifying conferences.  This year, Virginia Tech received an at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl, falling to Michigan 23-20 in overtime.

Clemson’s loss was brutal.  At times, I honestly cringed while watching the game.  And so as the Mountaineers drenched their coach with Gatorade and put on those championship t-shirts, I only wish I could’ve been on the sidelines to hand Dabo Swinney another shirt—“Orange you glad this is over?”