A victory defined by WVU's offensive exploits changed on a play by the defense. Safety Darwin Cook protected his end zone by forcing and recovering a fumble on the goal line and returning it for a momentous touchdown in the second quarter.
"That," Cook said, "was the best feeling of my life."
The defense had issues up to that point and the Mountaineers actually trailed 17-14 at the end of the highest-scoring first quarter in the game's history. They took the lead for good when Smith's second touchdown pass to Austin gave put them ahead, 21-17.
The Tigers seemed ready to answer when they drove to WVU's 3-yard line and Ellington pushed toward the end zone. Cook popped the ball out, picked it up and ran 99 yards for a touchdown and a 28-17 lead. He also tackled Obie, the Orange Bowl mascot, a few steps outside the end zone.
The Tigers made a field goal, but WVU immediately went back down the field and scored again on a 7-yard run by Smith for a 35-20 lead with 2:29 left in the half. Boyd threw to his top receiver, Sammy Watkins, on second down, but was intercepted by cornerback Pat Miller at WVU's 33. Milhouse caught a 30-yard pass from Smith and Austin scored again on a 3-yard reception.
Boyd turned it over again when he ran on first down and but was stripped by defensive end Bruce Irvin. Linebacker Najee Goode recovered at the 18 with 1:02 to go. Alston rumbled into the end zone for his second touchdown with four seconds left in the half and the Mountaineers led 49-20.
"The defense was everything for us," said left tackle Don Barclay. "Going from a 15-point ball game to a 29-point ball game was huge. My hat's off to the defense for everything those guys did."
WVU's 35 points in the second quarter set a record for all bowls.
The Mountaineers scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the third quarter, the first a 6-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Bailey followed by a 36-yard pass from Smith to Austin.
"I knew we had the potential to do something like this, to put up 70 points," Bailey said. "We've got a lot of dynamic playmakers on offense and once this thing gets clicking, it's pretty hard to stop us."
Clemson forced a WVU punt after touchdowns on five straight drives. Smith was actually taken out of the game with 4:39 left in the third quarter and his team up 63-20. His backup, Paul Millard, threw an interception and Clemson scored. Smith was back in the game on the next possession.
Both offenses were good before Boyd's turnovers. Neither team needed more than nine plays or 2 minutes, 39 seconds to finish a scoring drive. The Tigers were the ones who started it with Ellington's 68-yard touchdown run, the third-longest scoring run in game history. WVU answered, thanks to a smart play by freshman Andrew Buie.
He caught a short pass from Smith and was brought to the grass by safety Rashard Hall, but Buie never touched the ground and found his feet to run to the 10-yard line. Alston scored two plays later.
The Tigers converted a fourth down on the next drive and Boyd found Watkins open for a 27-yard touchdown. Smith threw for 33 yards to Milhouse on the next drive and then scrambled for eight yards on third-and-7 before flipping a short pass to Austin for an 8-yard touchdown.
WVU's defense stopped Clemson and forced a 39-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 17-14 lead, but the Mountaineers took the lead on the next possession when Smith threw another short pass to a motioning Austin, who went 27 yards and beat the defense to the left corner of the end zone for a 21-17 lead.
"We still haven't tackled him," Swinney said of Austin. "He's as good a skill player with the ball in his hands as I've seen all year. I mean, he's special. He is a special, special football player."
At the half, WVU had only 16 more yards of offense than the Tigers (343-327), but had three touchdowns off Clemson's three turnovers. The Mountaineers played a clean half with one penalty, no turnovers and only three negative yardage plays.
WVU set record for all bowls for points in a half. The 49 points were four better than the 45 scored by Colorado against Boston College in the 1999 Insight.com Bowl. The Mountaineers alone set the Orange Bowl record for points in a half. In 2005, USC and Oklahoma combined for 48 points in the first half. Wednesday's game beat that by 21 points.