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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It was as if the Clemson players and coaches left the Orange Bowl after a decent first quarter and ambled aboard the Senior Night shuffleboard cruise to Bimini.

Appropriately, "Train" played at halftime of a Tiger train wreck, a record-shattering 70-33 loss to West Virginia. Seemingly half the Clemson fans on hand Wednesday night spent most of the second half somewhere far away from Sun Life Stadium.

Clemson recruiting message: Hey, guys, sign up and you can start right away.

Locals insist the Miami Dolphins haven't produced as many touchdowns in any season since Dan Marino retired as No. 23 West Virginia piled on No. 14 (and favored) Clemson.

That was just the first half.

The Mountaineers gained more yards than the Everglades has reptiles.

It was a long, painful part of a process Dabo Swinney's very young team must deal with in order to make Orange Bowl trips a regular part of the Clemson schedule.

This one will be tough to take, in cyberspace and on bumper stickers issued by rival fans.

But we all know few people in August expected this team to play in such a nice bowl game.

Perspective will serve as a Band-Aid. Even if the Band-Aid stays on for a month or two.

Orange for not

It's not Clemson's fault that the ACC wasn't good this year or this bowl season (2-6). Coincidentally, West Virginia head coach/play-caller Dana Holgorsen seemed to be auditioning Wednesday night for the vacant Dolphins head coach job.

As they did for most of an unexpectedly good season, Clemson put on a show.

But only for a quarter.

Maybe that's what happens when there are 29 redshirt freshmen or true freshmen that played this season.

Amazingly -- and this might be the strangest stat of a record-breaking Orange Bowl -- the Tigers managed two defensive stops while giving up an all-time, all-bowl record 49 points in the first half.

Until the start of the second quarter, all the orange was aligning for Clemson, including the friendly orange seats at Sun Life Stadium and the Tigers' all-orange uniforms.

It's a less juicy Orange Bowl these days, no longer held at the original Orange Bowl site now razed with the Miami Marlins' brand new ballpark built atop the hallowed ground.

But it's the same town where Danny Ford led the brash and innovative 1981 Tigers to the national championship and the Clemson traveling party had a lot of 1981 ghost karma plugged into their Miami sound machines, including a team trip to see "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" on Tuesday night.

It just happens to be the week Ford was inducted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame. Jeff Davis, one of Clemson's 1981 stars, served as the Tigers' Honorary Captain. Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller, who had one of his best Clemson games in a 2009 win at Miami, was around the team all Tuesday and Wednesday.

The next step

"These old boys are going to want to come back here," Swinney said after Clemson had completed its long stretch of South Florida workouts, referring to his young and overachieving players.

Sure, lots more sun than Charlotte or Nashville.

Swinney also made a telling pre-game observation about his defense, specifically the key players lost from the 2010 team.

"If I had Da'Quan Bowers and Gilly (Marcus Gilchrist) and DeAndre (McDaniel) and Jarvis Jenkins, that would have been scary," Swinney said. "We might be playing in New Orleans (in the BCS national championship game)."

And the 2010 Clemson team would have been much better with 2009 gamebreakers Spiller and Jacoby Ford.

So the next step is putting together a deeper roster, a balanced squad capable of winning big bowl games.

Or at least keeping fans in the seats into the fourth quarter.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or Twitter: @sapakoff.