MIAMI -- Clemson fans on their way out of South Florida were greeted Thursday with fresh billboards congratulating West Virginia on its Orange Bowl victory.
Some South Carolina fans might still be celebrating in Celebration.
Melvin Ingram, the heartbeat of the Gamecocks' defense, was last off the field following the 30-13 Capital One Bowl rout of Nebraska. The senior defensive end walked up cement stairs to hug fans and give away wristbands.
"I can't say enough about this team and these fans," Ingram said.
Of course, "rout" is a relative term when it comes to bowl results.
Clemson players walked off the field before a half-empty Sun Life Stadium after their already infamous 70-33 loss to West Virginia. Really hard to score 33 points and lose by more than five touchdowns.
"That's the record for most points in any bowl game ever?" Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd asked. "More than Baylor?"
Yeah, man, even the great Robert Griffin III could only manage 67 points against Washington, which put up 56 in the Alamo Bowl last week.
Some Clemson fans are blaming head coach Dabo Swinney, others defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and still others former head coach Tommy Bowden, who watched the Orange Bowl in the West Virginia University president's box (he was a Mountaineers wide receiver who played for his father, Bobby Bowden).
Steele and trends
Steele looked good last season with good players, not so hot this year with a posse of new starters.
Part of it is recruiting, and lots of it the state of college football. Danny Ford's best Clemson teams, highlighted by the 1981 national champs, innovatively loaded the defense with top athletes, a trend copied by Jimmy Johnson's stellar Miami teams.
But now the best, fastest players are in spread offenses, while players on defense focus not on tackling technique but takeaways.
Somehow, Steele's guys came up with a second stop during a first half Wednesday night in which West Virginia notched 49 points, also a bowl record. The Tigers did it with six defensive backs and 5-11 linebacker Corico Hawkins behind the front four.
Folks, that is indicative of this new wave of anti-spread desperation.
The trendy tipping point, some analysts believe, came in 2004 at Ohio State. Ted Ginn Jr. came to the Buckeyes as a national defensive player of the year, but was quickly assigned to offense at Ohio State.
But Clemson clearly needs to establish toughness on defense, the kind veteran Tigers fans came to love 30 years ago. Two words: Levon Kirkland. The former Clemson and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker in November was named head coach at upstart Shannon Forest Christian School in Greenville, would command respect among college players and probably recruit well.
Boyd 'over it'
So many bowl twists.
Steele and the Clemson defense forced a punt on West Virginia's first Orange Bowl possession.
Gamecocks fans were tweeting mad when Nebraska greeted new South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward with touchdowns on its first two Capital One Bowl possessions.
Ah, but Ward in jamming the Cornhuskers had command of a tremendous collection of talent, a group that helped previous coordinator Ellis Johnson cash in as head coach at Southern Miss.
Johnson just hired a new defensive coordinator, Tommy West, fired at Clemson two head coaches ago essentially because he didn't have enough good players on defense or offense.
Hard to say how an embarrassing Orange Bowl loss will impact Clemson recruiting.
Or if South Carolina can capitalize on Capital One Bowl success and a season in which the Gamecocks were pointspread underdogs just once, at Arkansas.
"I'm over it right now," Boyd said in front of his Orange Bowl locker. "I'm ready to head back to work. I'm ready to better myself as a player, a leader and a person. I learned so much this year."
Spring practice is almost here.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at email@example.com
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