Darwin Cook's 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown turned the momentum in West Virginia's favor Wednesday night.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It was easy to forget in the aftermath of West Virginia's record-shattering 70-33 win over Clemson Wednesday night. But the fact of the matter is, this Orange Bowl wasn't just close early, it looked like the Tigers were in control.
OK, so perhaps not control, but they did seem to have things going their way. Andre Ellington had a 68-yard touchdown run, Clemson had drives of 97 and 62 yards for touchdowns and WVU was just trying to keep up.
Then Darwin Cook stepped into the mix and his play changed everything.
"I just saw the ball and thought, 'Is it loose?' '' Cook would say afterward. "It was a big pile, so I knew he wasn't on the ground yet.''
It all started out innocently enough, really. Trailing 17-14, the Mountaineers got a 27-yard run by Tavon Austin after a short flip pass from quarterback Geno Smith to make it 21-17. Then Clemson drove 73 yards and had first-and-goal at the 3 and it was only a matter of time before the see-saw went back the other way.
A funny thing happened to that see-saw, though. Cook sat on it and it stayed on WVU's side for good.
Cook reached into that pile he saw and stripped the ball from Andre Ellington just as the Clemson tailback was about to try to push across the goal line. The call was a close one and it was reviewed at length. It was easy to tell that Cook had pulled the ball loose, but nearly impossible to see if Ellington's momentum had been stopped or he'd gone to the ground in the pile.
But the call on the field was a fumble and a touchdown, so it stood.
Suddenly, then, instead of trailing 24-21, West Virginia led 28-17, a huge swing. And even though Clemson would score on its next possession, the Mountaineers would then score touchdowns on five straight possessions over the second and third quarters to go up 56-20 and the rout was on.
"It's a 14-point swing,'' said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "All of a sudden that opened the door and it was like a virus.''
Indeed, and it was a virus of momentum that just kept spreading.
"It's the story of the season, momentum,'' said Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, a former WVU recruit who completed 24 of 46 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked off twice and sacked three times. "And this one was not in our favor. ... Momentum shifted and we couldn't catch it.''
West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel continued to be evasive about his future following Wednesday night's game.
Casteel has been rumored for the last month to be considering an offer to join former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. Rodriguez was hired there more than a month ago, yet has not hired a defensive coordinator or any defensive staff members.
After the orange Bowl win Casteel repeated what he said when the question was posed to him a few weeks ago. "I hope to be back at West Virginia [next season],'' he said.
Here's the reason that's vague, though: Casteel has a contract to coach at WVU for at least the next two seasons and will be paid $450,000 next season. No one has asked him to leave. So if he hopes to be back at West Virginia, well, that's his decision.
Despite that, Casteel wouldn't budge in his comments. He was asked if he had a timeline for determining his future.
"I don't have a timeline on anything,'' Casteel said.
WVU representative Matt Wells said the final total of tickets sold through the school was 7,800.
"Between the internal usage and tickets for troops, we used 11,000 total," Wells said. "We returned a couple thousand to the Orange Bowl to distribute to organizations they work with. We were responsible for those, though."
He said 2,300 tickets were shipped back to the Orange Bowl.
BRIEFLY: With still nearly five minutes to play in the third quarter, freshman Paul Millard replaced Geno Smith at quarterback for WVU and it appeared that perhaps coach Dana Holgorsen was already beginning to pull his starters. The score was 63-20 at the time, but more than 20 minutes remained in the game.
Afterward, though, Smith said he left the game because of cramps. Millard threw an interception -- WVU's only turnover of the game -- and Smith returned on the next series.
| In addition to breaking the record for scoring by a team in any bowl game, WVU also scored the most points ever in a quarter (35 in the second) and a half (49 in the first). WVU and Clemson also combined for an Orange Bowl record 1,032 total yards and a BCS record 103 total points. Of course, Tyler Bitancurt's 10 PATs were also a record and Austin, in addition to his BCS-record four TD receptions, set an Orange Bowl record with 11 catches.
| Shawne Alston started in place of injured Dustin Garrison and gained 77 yards on 20 carries. Andrew Buie also carried 13 times for 45 yards, including a highlight-reel 16-yard run to set up WVU's first TD of the game when he rolled over Clemson's Rashard Hall and kept going.
| Wes Tonkery, the redshirt freshman from Bridgeport, started in place of injured Terence Garvin at strong safety.
| Austin said before the game it would be a "coaches decision" as to whether he would return punts. He did not. Devon Brown handled the duties.
| Former Mountaineer and Miami Dolphin quarterback Pat White was WVU's honorary captain for the game. Other former Mountaineer players at the game included Steve Slaton and Anthony Becht.
| WVU coach Dana Holgorsen indicated late in the season he'd stop deferring the decision of a won coin flip and take the kickoff.
He chose to defer to Clemson, however, and it worked out on Wednesday. The Tigers went three-and-out on their first series and WVU subsequently won the early battle for field position.
| Half the upper deck lights at Sun Life Stadium went out early in the second quarter, but the field remained well-lit.