Questionable future looks good for West Virginia
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- To put West Virginia's 70-33 Orange Bowl spectacle into perspective, remember just how bleak this season seemed six weeks ago.
A loss to Louisville jeopardized the season. The gauntlet was thrown in the courtroom.
Then fast forward to a cool South Florida night, when coach Dana Holgorsen and his underdogs waxed electric poetry in the form of 589 yards of total offense.
The Mountaineers scored more points than any team in any bowl game -- in 110 years.
They shattered Bowl Championship Series and Orange Bowl records at will -- in what is likely the program's final game in the Big East Conference and first hello to the Big 12.
And the program still regularly questioned for its national relevance, scored a third BCS game win in six years.
"Nobody really believed in the team besides the state of West Virginia," receiver Tavon Austin said. "It definitely feels good."
And it looked good.
Geno Smith threw for 401 yards and six touchdown passes, four of them to Austin -- all Orange Bowl records.
Austin had 11 receptions, flashed his wicked speed and flawlessly executed the team's nifty touch-pass play where, in motion in front of the quarterback, he grabs what looks like a volleyball set from Smith and wheels full speed out of the backfield. West Virginia scored four times off this play as the game progressed.
Austin scored on passes of 8, 27, 3 and 37 yards.
Smith was efficient and executed like no other game this season getting protection by his offensive line like it was easy.
"Our guys felt like they weren't getting much credit and they wanted to make a statement in this game," Holgorsen said. "Clemson is a good team, but we got the momentum, and it made us tough to catch.
"This victory caps a great season and helps us lay the groundwork for the future."
That future, if a move to the Big 12 occurs in the fall -- will be a new era for the Mountaineers, long the Big East's anchor program in football.
The win was the first complete game of the season for West Virginia.
In the nine previous wins the team had sputtered in some aspect of the game -- special teams, offense or defense. With a team effort, they managed to win their final three regular-season games and grab the Big East title via tiebreakers.
On Wednesday night, with a national audience, it all came together for really the very first time.
After a shootout played out for about a quarter, defensive back Darwin Cook stunned the Tigers with a game-changer.
Clemson running back Andre Ellington was threatening to score from the 3, but was stripped of the ball on the 1. The ball sputtered loose and Cook was there to grab it and go 99 yards for a score.
It took the air out of the tires for Clemson, and Smith and his boys exercised a clinic for the rest of the game.
West Virginia dominated possession time by its largest margin of the year: 36:55-23:05, converted 10 of 16 third downs, had just four penalties, no turnovers, ran the ball 188 yards, including 26 by Smith with a rushing score, and got a lock-down performance from the defense after regaining the lead.
"I mean, hopefully we can stop getting all the criticism. People doubt us, no matter the situation," defensive end Bruce Irvin said. "They always doubt us and I feel that's when we play the best. Hopefully people realize we can play with the best of them."
First Published January 6, 2012 12:00 am