MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Geno Smith threw six touchdowns passes – four to Tavon Austin - and Darwin Cook returned a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown to lead West Virginia to a 70-33 victory over Clemson Wednesday night in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl played at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Those six touchdown passes by Smith are an Orange Bowl and BCS bowl record, surpassing the five achieved by USC’s Matt Leinart against Oklahoma in the 2005 national championship game.
West Virginia’s staggering offensive display sent everyone scurrying to the record books (a complete listing is attached above) and the crack Orange Bowl staff is likely researching more.
"We liked our plan on all three sides of the ball," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "I'd been saying that if we put all three sides of the ball together and played as a team that we were going to be pretty hard to beat. We figured that out four games ago, and we haven't lost yet."
In the three BCS bowl games before tonight, teams combined for 205 points and 2,692 yards. West Virginia nearly halved that total against an overmatched Tiger defense. In fact, the Mountaineers came within 15 points of matching the men's basketball team's 85 points scored in a 21-point win at Rutgers earlier tonight.
Orange Bowl MVP Smith, who grew up within walking distance of Sun Life Stadium, threw for 401 yards to become the Big East single season passing leader with 4,379 yards, while Austin accounted for 280 all-purpose yards (117 receiving), but it was Cook’s heads up play at the goal line that turned the tide of the game.
West Virginia was leading 21-17 in a back-and-forth game with the Tigers poised to retake the lead with a first and goal at the 3. Running back Andre Ellington, who burned the Mountaineers for a 68-yard touchdown run on Clemson’s second possession of the game, was working his way toward the goal line when Cook came in from behind and grabbed the ball out of his arm before he went to the ground, and alertly took off running in the other direction for a 99-yard touchdown. The play was reviewed and the fumble was confirmed.
"We have been telling them to keep playing," said Holgorsen. "When you are in a game where points are being scored, like they were early, it is important to keep playing. That's what we did, and a defensive play turned the game. It was an 11-point swing, and it gave our players a lot of momentum that they naver gave it up."
The Mountaineers erupted for 21 points, two on TD runs by Smith of 7 yards and by Shawne Alston of 1 yard, and an Austin 3-yard pass to build a 49-20 halftime lead.
West Virginia’s remaining score of the first half came as a result of a Tajh Boyd fumble that was recovered by Najee Goode at the Clemson 18.
The Mountaineers scored on their first two possessions of the second half, a 6-yard pass to Bailey and a pretty 37-yard pass to Austin over the middle, to give West Virginia its most points in a game since scoring 80 against Rutgers in 2001 and the most ever in a bowl game.
"When we get 21 points off of turnovers, we feel, with our offense, we will be pretty hard to beat," said Holgorsen.
Late in the third quarter, West Virginia was in the unusual position of trying to run out the clock in Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid attack that is designed to score points quickly. Holgorsen first tried to use backup Paul Millard with four minutes still remaining in the third quarter, but his third-down pass into double coverage was picked off by Clemson’s Rashard Hall, leading to DeAndre Hopkins’ 28-yard touchdown pass.
Holgorsen then went back to Smith, who was called for two delay-of-game penalties trying to burn clock, and he frequently snapped the ball with less than four seconds left on the play clock. Still, the game lasted well past midnight.
Tonight was not a good one for Boyd, a one-time West Virginia commit who threw two interceptions, fumbled once, and was sacked three times. Ironically, it was when Boyd changed his mind on attending West Virginia that a scholarship spot opened up for Smith.
Boyd completed 24 of 46 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
The victory gives West Virginia (10-3) its third BCS title and third 10-win season since 2006. Three of the Big East Conference’s four BCS bowl victories since the league lost Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech to the ACC in 2003 have come from the Mountaineers.
West Virginia finished the game with 589 total yards - including 188 yards on the ground. Junior Shawne Alston, who replaced the injured Dustin Garrison as the starting running back, rushed 20 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns to give him 12 rushing TDs for the season.
The Tigers had 443 total yards, 116 coming on the ground from Ellington and 107 through the air from Hopkins.
The Tigers other two big weapons, freshman All-American Sammy Watkins and John Mackey Award winner Dwayne Allen, combined to catch seven passes for 87 yards.
Clemson, which was hoping to use a good performance in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia as a launching pad for a possible national championship run in 2013, falls to 10-4. The Tigers were celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 1981 national championship won here in the Orange Bowl.
Tiger fans, which easily outnumbered West Virginia's by a 2-to-1 margin, were headed to the turnstiles by halftime. When the lights came back on after the halftime show performed by the musical group Train, the orange in the stadium made up of Clemson fans was replaced by empty seats.
The entire contingent of West Virginia fans remained to see the post-game trophy presentation and chant "Let's Go Mountaineers!"
"Our guys felt like they weren't getting much credit, and they wanted to make a statement in this game," said Holgorsen. "Clemson is a good team, but we got the momentum, and it made us tough to catch. The victory caps a great season and helps us lay the groundwork for the future."
Tonight's game was the sixth bowl to produce at least 70 total points, joining the Rose, Fiesta, Alamo, Military and Maaco bowls this season.
The Mountaineers, ranked No. 23 coming into tonight's game, are poised for another season-ending Top 15 finish for a program that has averaged 10 wins per year over the last six seasons.