Maturity is the difference this Orange Bowl trip, Clemson players will tell you. And, you had better believe they’ve had practice telling media that, being reminded about 70 times a day about 70 in the 70 divided by 2.197 days since Clemson accepted this year’s Orange Bowl invitation.
The Tigers hope Friday clouds memories about 70.
That’s how many points West Virginia roasted Clemson with two years ago in the Orange Bowl. On its way to the 70-33 final score, Clemson trailed 63-20 after three quarters. West Virginia scored so often and rapidly during a 35-point second quarter, you half expected the Sun Life Stadium scoreboard to go “thwack” and give West Virginia a free game.
(Ironically, University of West Virginia president Jim Clements takes the corresponding position at Clemson starting Wednesday.)
It was a major bowl game defensive annihilation so historic, it recalls Fielding Yost’s “Point-A-Minute” Michigan team crushing Stanford 49-0 in the first bowl game, the 1902 Rose Bowl. No, 49 points isn’t 70, but under current scoring rules it would have been 52 points, right on one per minute — Stanford’s captain requested the first Rose Bowl be called with eight minutes left.
“What happened before was disappointing. I think it was a learning experience for us,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “If you look back at it and look at the roster, the team was so young. It was inexperienced. We’d never been in a situation like that before, so we really didn't know how to handle the situation.
“Coming back here for the second time in three years is definitely an honor. It's a blessing for us. We're just going to try to take full advantage of it, make sure we understand what we're here to do.”
Said Clemson junior linebacker Stephone Anthony: “The surroundings, it’s no secret the distractions in South Florida … .” Encouraged to elaborate, he laughed and danced politely, “The scenery. If you’re not careful, this place can wow you.”
Said Clemson junior wide receiver Adam Humphries: “Two years ago, we had 42 freshmen on our team. Never been to a bowl game, never been to Miami. I think this year, we’re more mature, know how to handle the process.”
Junior defensive end Corey Crawford also credited the coaches with learning from two years ago.
“The biggest difference is the amount of time we’re out here,” Crawford said after Tuesday’s practice at Barry University. “Last time we were here, we were here for 22 periods. This year, coach [Dabo] Swinney is not working us too hard. He’s letting us enjoy ourselves, but with the frame of mind that he wants to get the job done.”
(It should be said that the biggest blunders in bowl preparation by Hall of Fame coaches Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler each concerned too much work and too little play for their players.)
The Orange Bowl two years ago began as the kind of point-a-palooza expected this year — “I don’t like that one bit,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Tuesday — with the teams trading touchdowns. West Virginia got a partial-service break by holding Clemson to a field goal, then countered with a touchdown for a 21-17 lead early in the second quarter.
On the following drive, Clemson running back Andre Ellington got stripped of the ball so close to the end zone that at least one Clemson player had his arms up to signal a touchdown. West Virginia’s Darwin Cook took the fumble back 99 yards to the other end zone.
Asked the one image he recalls from the game or the atmosphere that night, Anthony said, “The fumble return. That turned the whole game.”
Though Clemson came back with a field goal, the young Tigers were reeling. In the last 2:29 of the half, West Virginia put up another 21 points, 14 off Clemson turnovers.
“It was one of those games,” Humphries said. “That’s the one turnover, after that, it all went downhill for us. A mature group would see adversity and we would bounce back from that.”
Several Clemson players say 70 is in the past and has nothing to do with this year’s team. Anthony figures it took a day or so for most to put the debacle behind them.
But, he admitted, “We’d love to get that taste out of my mouth.”