Clemson collapses on ACC's biggest stage

Clemson's Tajh Boyd fumbles after being sacked by West Virginia's Bruce Irvin. Douglas Jones/US Presswire

MIAMI – You want to be first in line at the movies?

Stand behind Clemson’s defense, they’ll let you in.

First through the door at the Esso?

Don’t worry, Clemson’s defense will hold it open for you. And you might want to stay a while after watching the Tigers in Wednesday night’s 70-33 beatdown by West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl. If you watched more than three quarters, you lasted longer than most of the Clemson fans in Sun Life Stadium, which cleared out faster than a middle school during a fire drill.

Embarrassed isn’t the right word, said defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

“Ass-kicked,” he said. “Excuse my language.”

The language can be excused. It was Clemson’s performance that was insulting.

The ACC champions. The Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year. And the most points ever scored by a team in any bowl game. Ever.

“It’s probably as bad a defensive performance as I’ve seen in a long, long, time,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “It’s incredibly disappointing.”

Just when you think the Tigers put it all together, they fall apart. Fine. We’re used to that. After an 8-0 start this season, Clemson lost three of its last four regular season games. It’s not unusual for Clemson to follow a stellar performance like the one in the ACC title game with a flop like the loss to NC State.

But this one – this one was a monumental fail, even by Clemson’s standards. It wasn’t just an embarrassment for the school and the program, but also for the ACC. Thanks to Clemson, West Virginia alone now has more BCS wins (three) than the entire ACC (two). With the loss, the ACC finished its bowl season with a forgettable 2-6 record and an 0-2 record in BCS bowls. The ACC was supposed to celebrate and bask in the achievement of having two teams qualify for BCS bowls for the first time in history. Instead, those two games made ACC fans cringe.

Don’t confuse Clemson’s debacle with Virginia Tech’s loss to Michigan, though. This was nothing like what happened to the Hokies in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, or even last year against Stanford in the Discover Orange Bowl. That was the ACC getting kicked in the shins. This was the ACC getting pantsed.

“Am I embarrassed?” said quarterback Tajh Boyd, “definitely. I’ve never been a part of, never actually been on that side of getting beat like that.”

“You have to be slightly embarrassed because we know we’re better than that,” said defensive end Andre Branch. “For someone to say they’re not embarrassed is kind of false.”

And Clemson’s defense “kind of” allowed quarterback Geno Smith 427 yards of total offense – just 16 yards shy of what Clemson’s offense totaled as a team.

Clemson had five weeks to prepare for this game. It looked like they practiced for five days – against T.L. Hannah High. Clemson hadn’t been to the Orange Bowl in 30 years, and it will be another 30 before it returns unless the defense makes drastic improvements.

“We’ve got to do a better job and it’s my responsibility,” Steele said. “I take responsibility for it. In this business, you stand in the paint, take your shots and get better. It’s what you do.”

After allowing 589 yards of total offense, seven touchdowns in seven trips to the red zone, and 49 first-half points, Clemson’s defense was more effective in paving the way for the Mountaineers than West Virginia’s offensive line. The Mountaineers were 10 of 16 on third-down conversions.

“We just got outplayed, point-blank, period,” said Branch. “They just out-executed us and made more plays than we did.”

The offense, with its four turnovers, didn’t exactly help matters.

You want to be the first out of Sun Life Stadium on Wednesday night?

So did Clemson.