West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith tied the record for any college football bowl game with six touchdown passes as the Mountaineers routed Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl on Wednesday.
Smith’s effort was just one of several records to fall on a chilly Florida night, with the Mountaineers setting a new mark for the highest-scoring half in a bowl game by leading 49-20 at halftime.
West Virginia piled on five touchdowns in the second quarter, including three in the final 2:29. One of them came when safety Darwin Cook had a comic coming together with the Orange Bowl mascot Obie.
That came when Cook made the pivotal play by returning a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown to break the game open.
“I always envisioned making great plays,” Cook said. “If you think it will happen, it will happen.”
Tavon Austin also tied a record for any bowl game with four -touchdown receptions.
Smith completed 31 of 42 pass attempts, and had 401 yards passing to break Tom Brady’s Orange Bowl record. Smith also ran for a score, helping West Virginia break the bowl record for points, which was established just six nights earlier, when Baylor beat Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl.
“Never could we imagine we’d put up 70 points,” Smith said.
The Mountaineers (10-3) won in their first Orange Bowl appearance and improved to 3-0 in Bowl Championship Series games.
“The guys wanted to come in and make a statement, and the only way you can do that is if you play well on all three sides of the ball,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Clemson (10-4) lost in their first major bowl in 30 years.
“We’re a better team than we played tonight,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Just too many mistakes. But we’ll be back.”
Smith and Austin combined on scoring passes of 8, 27, 3 and 37 yards, and Shawne Alston scored on two short runs for West Virginia, which totaled 589 yards and 31 first downs. Smith was chosen the game’s outstanding player.
Clemson could not keep up, although Andre Ellington did score the game’s first points on a 68-yard run. First-team All-Americans Sammy Watkins and Dwayne Allen combined for only seven catches for 87 yards.
Amid the flurry of points, it was a defender who came up with the key moment. Clemson was on the verge of taking the lead in the second quarter when Ellington ran up the middle and disappeared into a heap at the 1 yard line. A teammate signaled touchdown, but the ball had come loose and Cook grabbed it, then took off with no one between him and the end zone.
“I saw the ball come loose,” he said. “I grabbed it. I didn’t hear a whistle, so I ran.”
After Cook crossed the goal line, he gleefully leaped on mascot Obie, a smiling orange, and they both tumbled to the turf. Obie rose unhurt and resumed her duties.
Cook and Obie met on the field after the game and shared a hug.
“I didn’t know you were a girl,” he told the mascot. “I apologize.”
That potential 14-point swing seemed to take the wind out of the Tigers, who had moved the ball almost at will to that point.
“It was a pretty big moment,” Swinney said. “They hadn’t really stopped us. That was huge. Then it snowballed quickly.”
The Tigers’ hopes of a comeback were doomed when quarterback Tajh Boyd committed subsequent turnovers on consecutive plays.
After Smith ran 7 yards for a 35-20 lead, Pat Miller intercepted Boyd’s pass. Smith flipped a 1 yard touchdown pass to Austin and, on the next play, a call was overturned, with the replay official determining Boyd had lost a fumble.