West Virginia 70, Clemson 33
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The typically fiery Kevin Steele offered no emotion as Stedman Bailey dove across the goal line on West Virginia’s first possession of the second half. Despair and disbelief replaced anger. Steele looked blankly toward the end zone with his right hand covering his head-set microphone. The Clemson defensive coordinator turned, crossed his arms and slowly walked back to his defense seated on sideline benches at Sun Life Stadium. He picked up a marker and dry erase board and searched for answers, answers which eluded the Clemson defense on Wednesday night and for much of the season.
In a return to the city of its finest hour, Clemson produced the most forgettable half of defensive football in the history of college football bowl play.
No. 23 West Virginia handed No. 14 Clemson an embarrassing, 70-33, loss on national television in its first BCS bowl game appearance and first trip to the Orange Bowl in 30 years, a loss that included a college football bowl record of 49 points allowed in a half. It also set a record for the most points allowed in a college bowl game. The loss continued a second-half tailspin. Clemson (10-4) reached its highest ranking in the BCS standings – No. 5 – on Oct. 23 before losing four of its final six games, capped by Wednesday’s loss.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith set Orange Bowl records with six passing touchdowns, 401 passing yards and seven total touchdowns. The Tigers allowed seven touchdowns to the Mountaineers (10-3) in the first half, a scoring frenzy that surpassed the 45 points Boston College allowed to Colorado in the 1999 Insight.com Bowl.
West Virginia’s point total was the second most Clemson had allowed in its history and it was the worst defensive showing of Clemson’s modern era from a points allowed standpoint. Clemson also allowed 590 yards.
Clemson lost to Alabama 74-7 in 1931 and allowed 66 points to Camp Hancock in 1918.
Clemson’s previous worst points allowed in the modern-era losses were a 57-0 loss to Florida State in 1993 and a 56-20 loss to South Carolina in 1975.
“That was about as ugly as it gets we didn’t execute very well we didn’t tackle very well,” Steele said. “It’s on me. It’s my job to get them to execute and get them ready. We practiced well and I think we had a good plan we just couldn’t get the bleeding stopped.”
Why didn’t practice performance translate to the game?
“We had no way of simulating the speed of some of the things that we saw out of (Tavon Austin) and (Stedman Bailey),” Steele said. “They did a great job in space.
Safety Rashard Hall said Clemson was “out-executed.” Jonathan Meeks said Clemson was “exposed.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the defense will get fixed.
"I’m as confident as I was the offense would be fixed sitting here last year,” Swinney said.
Like defense? You’ll have to wait for the BCS title game.
West Virginia’s defense was hardly effective in the first half as Clemson ran 48 plays and totaled 329 yards in the opening half.
Clemson led 14-7 when Sammy Watkins scored on a 27-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and 17-14 later in the quarter and again, 20-17, after a Chandler Catanzaro field goal before a historic nose-dive.
In a critical turning point, running back Andre Ellington fumbled at the West Virginia 1 and the fumble was returned 99 yards by Darwin Cook to give West Virginia a 28-17 lead.
Smith, the game’s MVP, followed by capping a six-play, 64-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown run to give West Virginia a 35-20 lead in the second quarter.
Clemson defenders continued familiar mistakes: missing tackles and failing to contain a mobile quarterback, Smith, who also strafed a suspect Clemson secondary completing 30 of 41 passes.
West Virginia’s speedy pair of 1,000-yard receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey outclassed Clemson’s corners and banged up safeties.
Smith outplayed Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who completed 24 of 46 passes for 250 yards (2 TDs/2INTs), and whose two second-quarter turnovers in Clemson territory, an interception and fumble, on back-to-back possessions set up a Smith scoring pass and Shawne Alston run to give West Virginia a 49-20 lead at the half.
While three turnovers led to West Virginia in the first half, Clemson’s defense failed to execute at any acceptable level. Steele said Monday he was unsure if his defense could recapture its performance against Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. It produced a polar-opposite performance.
“They’ve practiced (well), but they've been a good practice team all year long,” Steele said. “We won't know (how they perform) until Wednesday night.”
Steele said he can’t predict results and he couldn’t foresee a historic showing of futility.
EDITORS NOTE: In earlier versions of this story, the 49 points lost in the half was described as having set a record as the most points allowed in a half when it is also, in fact, set a record for the most points allowed in a game in the history of college bowl football.