WVU's Smith dazzles in Orange Bowl victory over Clemson
Shawne Alston, left, and Stedman Bailey celebrate Alston's 4-yard touchdown run in the Mountaineers' record-setting first half Wednesday night in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Share with others:
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Forget Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and that mighty Clemson offense.
This is quarterback Geno Smith's town.
West Virginia put the juice back in the Discover Orange Bowl Wednesday night, routing the Tigers 70-33 in the most fantastic display of offense seen this BCS bowl season.
The Mountaineers 49 first half points were the most scored by any team in a bowl game, ever.
Smith's six touchdown passes set a new BCS record just miles from his childhood home where he used to watch games on the JumboTron.
His 401-yard performance made him the most prolific passer in Orange Bowl history and Tavon Austin set a BCS and Orange Bowl record with his four touchdown receptions.
Trace it all back to a strip at the 1-yard line and 99-yard fumble return by defensive back Darwin Cook that was the game-changer with 10:28 to go in the first half.
A shootout was unfolding until that play.
But Clemson staggered after that and the Mountaineers forced Boyd into back-to-back turnovers - an interception and fumble - and went on an incredible scoring spree to take a 49-20 lead by halftime, a 63-26 lead by the end of the third quarter.
By any account: the game of West Virginia's season in front of 67,563.
"This win puts our program in a shining moment for now, but we believe better things are ahead," said Coach Dana Holgorsen, just the third first-year coach to win a BCS bowl. "We are just beginning to get this offense installed. We feel that we can improve and get better and our play at the end of the season proves that it is possible."
Cook's big return came early in the second quarter just when Clemson was about to score from the 3-yard line to take back the lead.
He said it was Doug Rigg that stripped Andre Ellington at the 1-yard line, he recovered, spun and hauled 99-yards to make it 28-17.
The play stood after a review and a wild roar went through the stadium.
"I tried to sneak out of there so people didn't think I have the ball at first," said Cook. "I couldn't believe it at that moment. It felt like high school."
Said defensive end Bruce Irvin: "I think we took the heart right out of them. Darwin Cook made a heads up play. He might have been the only one in the stadium who knew the ball came out???It took the life right out of them."
West Virignia's defense held Clemson to a field goal on the two possessions that followed that play, Smith scrambled seven yards for a touchdown to make it 35-20 with the point after.
Pat Miller picked off Boyd on the next possession and the offense went 32 yards on just three plays to score.
Boyd fumbled the next possession and West Virginia went 18 yards on four plays to take a 49-20 lead at the half.
Two more second half scores -- Stedman Bailey (6-yard reception) and Austin's fourth (37-yard reception) -- sent Clemson fans for the exits.
Smith was an exercise in calm and patience, running for a score and 26 net yards on five carries.
He threw for 401 yards, completing 31-of-42 passes.
He had scores of family and friends in attendance.
"Before the game I had a talk with my uncle. It kind of reminded me of high school when I'd go out there," he said. "After the game I went and hugged my family."
His offensive line -- lost in the statistics -- was superb.
"It was probably our best performance all year," said left tackle Don Barclay. "We took No. 40 out. He's a good part of getting to the quarterback. That's their pass rusher. We stopped him."
"He was out there just talking to us, having fun," said Barclay. "When he's doing that w eknow he's comfortable back there. We gave him a lot of time and he does what he does best."
Clemson's star players were all but invisible as the game wore on.
After an Orange Bowl record 31 combined points lit up the scoreboard in the first quarter that saw Andre Ellington burst right through the West Virginia defensive line untouched for a 68-yard touchdown run to give the Tigers an early 7-0 lead with the point after.
Andrew Buie, who had the play of the first half, caught a pass out of the backfield, bounced off safety Rashard Hall after being tackled. He popped up to land on his feet to put the Mountaineers on the 10.
Two plays later Shawne Alston ran it in from the 4-yard line to tie the game.
Sammy Watkins struck next: a 27-yard touchdown catch to make it 14-7, but guess what? West Virginia countered with Austin's first touchdown score to tie it at 14.
NOTES: Smith's new BCS touchdown record eclipsed USC's Matt Leinart, from 2005. His 385 passing yards surpassed now New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady's in Orange Bowl history. ... Several former players were in attendance at the game Wednesday night: Pat White, Steve Slaton, Darrell Talley, J.T. Thomas, Anthony Becht. ... Wes Tonkery started at strong safety replacing the injured Terence Garvin. ...
First Published January 5, 2012 1:00 am