MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It was easy to forget in the aftermath of West Virginia's record-shattering 70-33 win over Clemson Wednesday night. But the fact of the matter is, this Orange Bowl wasn't just close early, it looked like the Tigers were in control.
OK, so perhaps not control, but they did seem to have things going their way. Andre Ellington had a 68-yard touchdown run, Clemson had drives of 97 and 62 yards for touchdowns and WVU was just trying to keep up.
Then Darwin Cook stepped into the mix and his play changed everything.
"I just saw the ball and thought, 'Is it loose?' '' Cook would say afterward. "It was a big pile, so I knew he wasn't on the ground yet.''
It all started out innocently enough, really. Trailing 17-14, the Mountaineers got a 27-yard run by Tavon Austin after a short flip pass from quarterback Geno Smith to make it 21-17. Then Clemson drove 73 yards and had first-and-goal at the 3 and it was only a matter of time before the see-saw went back the other way.
A funny thing happened to that see-saw, though. Cook sat on it and it stayed on WVU's side for good.
Cook reached into that pile he saw and stripped the ball from Andre Ellington just as the Clemson tailback was about to try to push across the goal line. The call was a close one and it was reviewed at length. It was easy to tell that Cook had pulled the ball loose, but nearly impossible to see if Ellington's momentum had been stopped or he'd gone to the ground in the pile.
But the call on the field was a fumble and a touchdown, so it stood.
Suddenly, then, instead of trailing 24-21, West Virginia led 28-17, a huge swing. And even though Clemson would score on its next possession, the Mountaineers would then score touchdowns on five straight possessions over the second and third quarters to go up 56-20 and the rout was on.
"It's a 14-point swing,'' said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "All of a sudden that opened the door and it was like a virus.''
Indeed, and it was a virus of momentum that just kept spreading.
"It's the story of the season, momentum,'' said Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, a former WVU recruit who completed 24 of 46 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked off twice and sacked three times. "And this one was not in our favor. ... Momentum shifted and we couldn't catch it.''
West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel continued to be evasive about his future following Wednesday night's game.
Casteel has been rumored for the last month to be considering an offer to join former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. Rodriguez was hired there more than a month ago, yet has not hired a defensive coordinator or any defensive staff members.
After the orange Bowl win Casteel repeated what he said when the question was posed to him a few weeks ago. "I hope to be back at West Virginia [next season],'' he said.
Here's the reason that's vague, though: Casteel has a contract to coach at WVU for at least the next two seasons and will be paid $450,000 next season. No one has asked him to leave. So if he hopes to be back at West Virginia, well, that's his decision.