MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - West Virginia's offense slew a slew of records in Wednesday's Orange Bowl. It was the defense that likely won the game with a play in the second quarter that irreparably altered the momentum.
Mountaineers linebacker Doug Rigg forced a fumble on the goal line to prevent a touchdown and safety Darwin Cook recovered and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. Rather than allow Clemson's Andre Ellington to run in for a 3-yard touchdown and a potential 24-21 lead, Cook's return put WVU ahead 28-17 on the way to a 70-33 victory.
"That was huge," a dejected Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said. "I mean that was a big, big play."
Fittingly enough, Cook's caper was as stealthy as the defense swinging the game on a night that will be remembered for the Mountaineers scoring more points than anyone else ever had in any bowl before then.
"I just tried to sneak out of there so people wouldn't think I had the ball at first," said Cook, a sophomore from Cleveland. "Then I took off."
Cook was behind the play and saw the ball rattling around. He knew Ellington was in a pile and assumed he was not yet down. Cook reached in and stole the ball and did indeed tiptoe the other way before speeding up as others took notice.
"He was probably the only one in the stadium who knew the ball came out," defensive end Bruce Irvin said. "That was a great, heads-up play by him. God knows we needed seven points then. That was so big."
After trading punts to start, the teams each scored touchdowns on successive drives before WVU forced a field goal and then scored a third touchdown.
Clemson kept the seesaw swaying and was again at WVU's goal line when Rigg and Cook combined to unplug Clemson.
"As a defense, we studied Clemson very well the past month and I think we did a good job preparing for them," said safety Eain Smith, who had a game-high 12 tackles. "What we saw on film was when Clemson gets down, they have no fight left in them. That's exactly what we saw (Wednesday).
"I saw it when Cook took that fumble back. I saw their body language go way down immediately. I looked at their faces and I looked at the sideline and I saw their body language and I knew they didn't want to play the game."
The Tigers added a second field goal, but WVU then scored touchdowns on five straight drives. The offense moved the ball, but the defense kept getting it back. The Mountaineers intercepted Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd on one possession late in the second quarter before the offense scored a touchdown and then forced a fumble on Clemson's next play and to set up a second touchdown for a 49-20 lead at halftime.