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West Virginia turns into a runaway train

AP Photo
WVU players celebrate after Wednesday's Orange Bowl win.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - At halftime, musical group Train performed for the 67,563 in attendance at the Discover Orange Bowl.

In the first half, though, a runaway train named West Virginia performed for those here and nationally via ESPN.

The Mountaineers put together a half for the ages, a game for the ages, running, passing, swiping and intercepting.

Almost heaven?

No. It was simply heaven for WVU fans. One to put in a time capsule and visit when times are down.

A 49-20 lead. At halftime. A 70-33 final. Against the Atlantic Coast Conference champions. On a night when no other bowl games were being played. In a BCS game. It doesn't get any sweeter than that for Mountaineer fans.

It was an opportunity seized. For head coach Dana Holgorsen. For WVU's players.

It was the 2006 Sugar Bowl victory on Red Bull.

Yet this wasn't just a win for the ages for West Virginia. It was a win for the ages for any team. Teams like Oregon and Oklahoma State had to be absolutely green with envy watching this one.

Bowl Championship Series records fell like revelers on New Year's Eve. In the first half, West Virginia scored more points than any other team in BCS history, surpassing the old mark of 38 scored by USC, also in the Orange Bowl.

The 69 combined first-half points surpassed the previous mark of 56, set a couple days ago in the Rose Bowl when Wisconsin and Oregon were tied at 28.

But wait. Let's not limit this.

West Virginia's outburst was the best in the history of bowls. Ever.

The 49 first-half points were the most in any half in any bowl game in history. The Mountaineers' 70 were the most scored in a bowl game ever.

Allow that to sink in. One has to go back to the 1999 Insight.com Bowl to find a 45-point first half by Colorado against Boston College. One has to understand the previous game total of 67 was put up by Baylor, which had a Heisman Trophy winner in its backfield.

Think this might get recruits to take Holgorsen's calls? (And it certainly didn't hurt that the explosion took place in recruit-rich south Florida.)

How did it happen?

Well, sort of like a train that rolls out of control. Slowly at first. Before hitting breakneck speed.

The Mountaineer defense had a slow start, then got a Jared Barber breakup. It got a Darwin Cook strip of 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington at the goal line and a 99-yard return - as well as a tackle of bowl mascot Obie. After the officials' review, confirming the strip, the WVU sideline exploded.

But not like that WVU offense.

The view from here was the offensive powder keg was ignited by the game's wild card: freshman tailback Andrew Buie. After Geno Smith threw to Buie, buried in the depth chart for much of the year, the runner appeared to be going down, but rolled over the back of Clemson safety Rashard Hall and kept going down the right sideline.

Soon all were getting a piece of the action. Walk-on Willie Millhouse, a 34-yard catch. J.D. Woods, one for 15.

The unquestioned stars, however, were WVU quarterback Smith and wideout Tavon Austin.

Smith used both his arm and legs to lift his team. Heretofore trying to be solely a pocket passer, Smith used it all. (Including, perhaps, the motivation of playing opposite Tajh Boyd, who once committed to WVU before begging off.)

With Pat White in the house as an honorary captain, Smith set records that made the press box announcer mention the names of Matt Leinart and Tom Brady. Austin went crazy-legs on the Tigers. Set an all-time bowl record for receiving touchdown passes with four.

Please grasp that. Not within the history of the Orange Bowl or BCS games. We're talking ever. All bowl games.

"He's special," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney afterward. "He's a special, special player."

It will lead to the inevitable question of whether the junior now jumps to the NFL.

On Wednesday, though, it was a time to celebrate for WVU.

Today, it will be a time for celebration. Because this doesn't come along every day.

This was that day. The day where everything came together. The day of which one dreams. It was a day never experienced in relation to points by any other team in the history of college football.

No team has ever scored 70 points in a bowl.

No team has ever looked this sharp.

"It is what it is," said Swinney.

It was a major victory for all Mountaineers. It was a victory for Joe Madsen at center going against one of the top NFL prospects in Clemson's Brandon Thompson. It was a victory for the entire maligned offensive line. It was a victory for WVU nose guard Jorge Wright, who had to hold up in a crucial position in the 3-3-5. It was a victory for players like Devon Brown and Najee Goode and Keith Tandy.

Smith got his Pat White-like signature victory. Six touchdown passes. The Orange Bowl Most Outstanding Player Award. Carved himself a national name. White has his four bowl wins; Smith has this all-timer.

And Holgorsen has officially caught fire. He'll be the talk of radio shows far and wide today.

Afterward, he pointed to the team's seniors.

"They wanted to lay the groundwork for where this program is heading," Holgorsen said. "And the future couldn't look brighter than at WVU."

Indeed. 'Cause that train got on a roll Wednesday night. And just kept a-rolling on down those tracks.


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