Dr. Saturday

West Virginia vaporizes Clemson, BCS record book in (yet another) underachieving Orange Bowl

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Orange Bowl: West Virginia 70, Clemson 33.
West Virginia hired Dana Holgorsen last winter and promoted him to head coach last summer to do two things: a) Restore the Mountaineers to the winner's circle in a BCS game after a three-year drought, and b) Import some of the offensive fireworks that set opposing secondaries on fire during his stints at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State. Wednesday night, they got both. They just never expected all of the fireworks to go off at the same time.

Six days after Baylor set a bowl record with 67 points in the Alamo Bowl, West Virginia saw the Bears' bid and raised them a field goal. Seventy points by the Mountaineers on Wednesday night is the most against any Clemson team since 1931. The 37-point margin passed Florida's 56-23 humiliation of Maryland in 2002 as the most lopsided final score in any BCS bowl game. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith set BCS records with six touchdown passes on 401 yards through the air, cruising past Tom Brady's 369-yard night for Michigan in the 2000 Orange Bowl. Receiver Tavon Austin set Orange Bowl and BCS records with four touchdown receptions.

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As a whole, West Virginia hit paydirt eight times on its first 10 possessions, including a stretch in the second and third quarters in which it scored five touchdowns in a span of 26 offensive snaps. Clemson's defense allowed as many touchdowns Wednesday night (nine) as Alabama's defense has allowed all season — and that doesn't even include the 99-yard fumble return by safety Darwin Cook that turned the game permanently in the Mountaineers' favor in the second quarter. On ESPN's broadcast, ex-NFL coach turned color analyst Jon Gruden compared the degree of difficulty for the West Virginia offense to "playing patty-cake in your backyard."

Not that Clemson had a reputation for defense: It finished eighth in the ACC in total D, ninth in scoring. But it was respectable. This is the same defense that held the only other BCS-bound team it had seen before Wednesday night, Virginia Tech, to a grand total of 13 points in two separate meetings. It gave up 40 just once, in a wild comeback win at Maryland. There's a reason the Tigers were favored to win this game, and it's not because they were expected to exceed their season average of 33 points. For its part, West Virginia came in averaging 34.9 per game, almost exactly half of what it wound up putting on the board.

That's an embarrassment for Clemson in arguably its biggest game since it clinched a national championship in the original Orange Bowl 30 years ago, and fairly or not, it's another chapter in the ongoing BCS embarrassment for the ACC. Along with Virginia Tech's overtime loss to Michigan in Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl, the conference has now lost 13 of 15 big-money games since the BCS was born in 1998, the last three by double digits. It's only win since 1999, a 20-7 Virginia Tech win over Cincinnati in the 2009 Orange Bowl, still ranks as the lowest-rated game in BCS history.

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It's also an embarrassment for the Orange Bowl itself, which has to suffer through yet another forgettable game in its sad, extended fade into irrelevance. Can you remember the last decent Orange Bowl game since it hitched its wagon to the ACC? Kansas over Virginia Tech? Including Wednesday night's debacle, five of the last 10 Orange Bowls have been decided by at least 28 points. Since 2005, only one has featured a matchup of two top-10 teams. Before the BCS, it was arguably the most consistently prestigious bowl in the lineup; since, it's become an annual afterthought that hasn't lived up to its elite billing since at least 2004.

All anyone was asking for was a fast-paced, relatively high-scoring game, a la the enormously entertaining Rose and Fiesta Bowls on Jan. 2. Even a track meet amid the wreckage of the defenses would have at least been entertaining, a la the Alamo Bowl, and for a quarter or so it looked like that was what we were going to get. Instead, we got one fringe poll team running circles around another fringe poll team in the biggest blowout in BCS history. And the Big East isn't even going to get credit for that once West Virginia finally extricates itself from the league to join the Big 12. The game is too much like its wheezing halftime acts: Mediocre, past its prime and desperately hoping that sticking a recognizable name on a big, pyrotechnic stage will keep people watching.

If you made it all the way through this four-hour session of target practice, and you're not a West Virginia fan, I hope you were at least getting paid for it.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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