GRADES: Tigers overwhelmed

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - In one play, Clemson's Orange Bowl dreams were dashed.

The offense was rolling along just fine before Andre Ellington's goal line fumble created the most unimaginable change in momentum. With Clemson facing a second down and goal, trailing 21-17, Ellington was stripped of the ball inside the one-yard line. The ball was picked up and promptly by West Virginia's Darwin Cook and then returned 99 yards for a touchdown. After that, two more quick turnovers by Tajh Boyd created an deeper hole ... and the romp was officially on. Honestly, even without Ellington's turnover, Clemson still wouldn't have won this game given how well West Virginia's offense played, but many will point to that as the clear turning point in the game, and it obviously was.

Wednesday night's defensive performance was so bad, it wasn't even gradable. Clemson was blown off the ball and looked completely lost throughout the game. West Virginia did whatever it wanted to literally on every possession, leading to an unfathomable 49 first half points. And it was even more embarrassing than what the score suggested. Simply put, at times, it felt like Clemson gave up. All you need to know here is Wednesday night's defensive performance made the 2002 loss to Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl look good.

How about some good news? Chandler Catanzaro made both of his field goal attempts in the first half, with both coming from further than 40 yards out. Sammy Watkins had several nice kickoff returns, too. Unfortunately, nothing that happened on special teams mattered.

There's no excuse for what happened Wednesday night. While the turnover by Ellington hurt, it was almost as if Clemson gave up afterwards. The defense wasn't even good enough to be deemed "terrible" and the offense clearly lost all its confidence after suffering three turnovers in a the span of four minutes of the second quarter. It was a nasty way to end a good season and now there seems to be a large number of uncomfortable questions that need answering - especially on defense.

While nothing will take away from an ACC Championship, this kind of embarrassing performance leaves a very bad taste in your mouth headed into the offseason. Fans will question defensive coordinator Kevin Steele now more than ever, and now they have even more ammunition to do it. Giving up 70 points in a BCS game has a way of doing that. Once again, just when you think Clemson has arrived, the orange-clad world seemingly comes crashing to an end in the most shocking way imaginable. It sure as hell felt like it did Wednesday night, at least. Top Stories