A perfect storm.
That was what West Virginia football fans witnessed watching a stunning 70-33 rout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Wednesday night.
Through the entire regular season, WVU struggled with inconsistency and had to engineer fourth quarter comebacks in their last four wins just to tie for the Big East Championship and garner the Orange Bowl bid on a tiebreaker. There were times of exceptional play, but often offset by stretches of mistakes and poor execution. We talked of how good this team might be if they could simply put four quarters together, but wondered if they ever were capable of doing so.
Well, we found our answers. Yes, they are capable of putting together a complete game, and when that happened we saw how good they can be. In less than two quarters of playing time, WVU amassed 63 of its 70 points. Offensively the Mountaineers were virtually flawless. No major penalties, No false starts. No dropped passes. No turnovers until an interception by backup quarterback Paul Millard long after the outcome was decided. Geno Smith was exceptional. Tavon Austin was dazzling. And the other receivers caught everything in sight.
The momentum of the game turned as Clemson was about to score in the second quarter to retake the lead when Darwin Cook picked up a fumble and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown which instead gave WVU a 28-17 margin. The Tigers never recovered, and the rout was on.
Take flawless offensive execution, a 99-yard defensive score, several other good breaks (on 3 scores Mountaineer receivers remained in bounds by inches), mix it all together and you have a recipe for a perfect football storm. Save the DVR of this game, because it will be a long time before we see anything quite like this again.
The win puts a successful cap on a tumultuous year in which West Virginia changed coaches under difficult circumstances and endured weeks of speculation about future conference affiliation. For now, however, there are smiles all around.
Although there is some uncertainty as to when our new conference play begins, Athletics Director Oliver Luck has insisted that the Mountaineers will play in the Big 12 next season notwithstanding pending lawsuits between WVU and the Big East. This is most likely to result in a claim for damages by the Big East for an early departure rather than a result that forces WVU to play in its old league another two seasons, but stay tuned. Don't be surprised if this dispute is resolved by a settlement in the months ahead.
The win in the Orange Bowl gives West Virginia three BCS bowl wins over the last seven years. Only two other teams, Ohio State and USC, can make that claim. The Mountaineers also own more BCS wins than the entire Atlantic Coast Conference has attained since the BCS began. The ACC, which didn't want West Virginia as part of its expansion plans, is now 2-13 in BCS games. Someone apparently thought Pitt and Syracuse would bring more eyes to TV sets than what we saw Wednesday night. Good luck with that.
One other remarkable anecdote from this season is that the Mountaineers achieved a 10-3 record while being behind in every game at some point. Ten come from behind wins. It would be interesting to know if that has ever been done before, although I can't imagine who would have enough time to do that kind of research.
Happy New Year to all. See you next fall.