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Orange Bowl “a bitter taste” for Clemson, ACC

Streaking down the middle of the field, West Virginia’s Darwin Cook flipped momentum of an Orange Bowl on pace for a basketball score into as one-sided a contest as possible…

It was apparent all too early – Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s defense wasn’t stopping anything, but like wins against Maryland earlier this season, or even UNC – the offense matching the output step-for-step would take the spotlight off.

It wasn’t to be.

A great strip of Tigers running back Andre Ellington and then heads-up play by the Mountaineers’ Cook to take the ball from the goal-line and run it to the opposite goal-line for the score changed the game – the Tigers were rattled, West Virginia hitting them with an early big blow.

Then, twin turnovers by Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, a fumble and interception in the final 2:05 of the first half, sealed it – allowing West Virginia to post 49 first-half points to break a bowl record.

Just like that, only 30 minutes in – the expected shootout was a massacre.

The Tigers, and especially quarterback Tajh Boyd, knew exactly what they were up against in the Mountaineers’ offense – there was little room for error.

West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen twisted the knife in the second half too – leaving in starting QB Geno Smith late into the game to break the BCS record of 6 touchdown passes while hitting 31-of-42 attempts for 401 yards (first 400-yard passing yard game in Orange Bowl history).

Up 63-26 in the fourth quarter, Holgorsen was calling playaction passes – really.

But I digress, calling a 70-33 loss a catastrophic embarrassment can only be an understatement.

Boyd completed 24-of-46 passes for 250 yards with two touchdowns and interceptions each – sacked three times, but most of those came late in a very desperate time down big. For most of the game, he had solid protection.

His receivers suffered from drops aplenty – including usually reliable options, wide receiver Jaron Brown and tight end Dwayne Allen.

His running back Andre Ellington had a career-game with 10 attempts for 116 rushing yards (68 coming on one touchdown rush) in the first half, but due to the score, Ellington didn’t have one second-half carry.

Ellington’s fumble changed the game, but honestly, the way West Virginia moved the ball – a score there probably wouldn’t have changed the result.

You can’t win big games with that caliber of defensive play – much like the Clemson offense needed an overhaul post -2010, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney will face the same pressure from the Clemson faithful to do something – anything to fix the defense. However they do it, Swinney vowed more than once postgame that another Orange Bowl drought (30 years between last two) is not about to happen under his watch.

“Tonight is a bitter taste,” Swinney said. “Really disappointing to our fans, especially those that traveled down here. Just so disappointing for us to play like we played.

“But we’ll be back.”

Maybe they will, but if West Virginia’s back too, it’ll be déjà vu all over again with the current staff.

The Orange Bowl was just an apropos rotten tomato atop the ACC bowls – finishing 2-6 overall and falling to 2-13 in BCS games. If there was any mistaking it before, this is not a good football conference right now – and I’m not sure when it will be.

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