WVU players celebrate after Wednesday's Orange Bowl win.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- In the days leading up to West Virginia's Orange Bowl date with Clemson, one of the hottest topics of discussion was whether or not Dana Holgorsen would have to look for a new defensive coordinator following the game.
Well, in the immediate aftermath it still wasn't clear if Jeff Casteel was staying or leaving to join Rich Rodriguez in Arizona. But there was also something else to consider.
To borrow from the movie Blazing Saddles, "Defense? We don't need no stinking defense.''
In what will surely go down as one of the most amazing performances in school and BCS bowl history, No. 23 West Virginia absolutely dismantled No. 14 Clemson Wednesday night in a record-shattering Orange Bowl. The Mountaineers exploded in the middle of the game behind Geno Smith and Tavon Austin -- and even with that defense lending a huge hand -- and rolled to a 70-33 win over the Tigers.
In West Virginia's third BCS bowl game in the last seven years the Mountaineers improved to 3-0 and this one was just as impressive or perhaps more so than the others. And that's saying something considering the first two were a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl after the 2005 season and a huge upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2007 season. In both games WVU was a lopsided underdog.
This time Clemson was favored by only a few points, but WVU's middle-of-the game explosion rocked a crowd of 67,563 at Sun Life Stadium. At halftime WVU led 49-20 and two possessions into the third quarter the score was 63-20.
Afterward, Holgorsen said the game was a tribute both to the seniors he inherited in his first year as a head coach -- he joined Miami's Larry Coker and Boise State's Chris Peterson as the only coaches to win a BCS bowl in their first season -- and to the future of West Virginia's program with the underclassmen.
"I can't imagine it being any brighter than it is right now,'' Holgorsen said. "The future is pretty bright for West Virginia.''
Yes, well, the present isn't bad either, particularly with the offense that Holgorsen was hired to install, but which had sputtered at times late this season. There were no glitches at all Wednesday night, though, with the Mountaineers rolling up 592 total yards and Smith, named the game's MVP, going 31-of-42 passing for 401 yards.
"It's just amazing,'' said Smith, who shattered almost every significant school passing record this season. "I'd be selfish to say it was all about me tonight. It's also about making a statement to the nation that we're contenders and that we're coming back next year and, hopefully, we come back here next year for the national championship game.''
Oh, and if it mattered, that defense was also outstanding after a shaky start. Clemson scored on three of its first four possessions to lead 17-14 and had gained 185 yards by the end of that first quarter. But Darwin Cook forced a fumble and returned it 99 yards to change the momentum, while Bruce Irvin had a forced fumble and Pat Miller an interception to set up scores.
After Cook's return for a touchdown, Clemson had 260 yards. The Tigers gained less than 200 the rest of the way and finished with 449 yards.
"We're still a work in progress,'' Holgorsen said. "You don't score 70 points by being good on offense. You score 70 points by being good on all sides of the ball.''
Smith broke Orange Bowl and BCS records and tied the all-time bowl record with six touchdown passes and shattered a Tom Brady Orange Bowl mark with 401 passing yards as West Virginia improved to 10-3 and figures to move up to its highest final ranking since that Fiesta Bowl season.
Austin, meanwhile, had four receiving touchdowns, tying Orange Bowl and BCS bowl game records. He caught 11 passes for 117 yards and ran the ball four times for 46.
"We still haven't tackled No. 1,'' Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Austin.
WVU's 70 points also shattered the all-time record for points in any bowl game, set less than a week ago when Baylor scored 67 in the Alamo Bowl against Washington.
Smith, who finished with 4,379 passing yards this season, setting both school and Big East records, also added a rushing touchdown, giving him seven scores in the game.
"We never imagined scoring 70 points. We just wanted to come out and get a win,'' Smith said. "We definitely made a statement and let everyone know we're a contender next year.''
West Virginia's performance was even more stunning when one considers that Clemson actually controlled things early, The Tigers didn't trail until the game's fifth score, leading 7-0, 14-7 and, heading into the second quarter, 17-14.
That's when the dam broke and the Mountaineers put together a 35-3 second quarter and a 49-3 run that was almost certainly the most lopsided run in all of bowl history over just a 15-minute stretch.
"Obviously we're a better football team than we showed tonight,'' said Swinney. "But it is what it is.''
It started when WVU took the lead for good on Austin's 27-yard run after a short flip pass in the backfield from Smith (four of Smith's six TD passes were passes of no more than a foot or two in the backfield, three to Austin and one to Willie Milhouse). That made it 21-17. It looked like that would be short-lived, though, when Clemson drove right down the field and appeared set to go up 24-21 with first-and-goal at the 3.
But on that first-down play, Darwin Cook reached into a pile as Clemson tailback Andre Ellington was trying to push the pile across the goal. Cook not only stripped the ball, he picked it up and ran 99 yards the other way with it. After a lengthy video review, the fumble was confirmed and instead of trailing 24-21 West Virginia led 28-17 and was off to the races.
Clemson did manage to counter with a field goal to make it 28-20, but then the Mountaineers scored three times in the final 2:29 of the first half to make it 49-20, then on the first two possessions of the third quarter to go up 63-20.
Included in that stretch of five straight possessions with a touchdown were all sorts of plays from all kinds of sources. Smith scrambled for a 7-yard touchdown, Shawne Alston ran for a 1-yard score as time was running out in the half, Stedman Bailey converted a 6-yard scoring pass by diving for the pylon and Austin scored on two more runs after short passes, one a 3-yarder on a flip in the backfield and another on a pass into the wide-open middle of the field.
"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.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com