Clemson’s defense became West Virginia’s nightmare in the Gator Bowl game Saturday night.
“They ran us down from behind and from everyplace else,” West Virginia Coach Don Nehlen said after the Tigers capitalized on four second-half turnovers and beat the Mountaineers, 27-7.
Clemson linebacker Levon Kirkland said the Tigers’ speed overwhelmed West Virginia, frustrating quarterback Major Harris, who committed all four turnovers.
“He really hadn’t seen speed like we had,” Kirkland said. “We weren’t playing Harris, we were playing the whole team.”
Harris had one pass intercepted and lost three fumbles, the last being recovered in the end zone by Clemson’s Chester McGlockton for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 24-7 lead with 8:08 remaining.
“I hurt the team,” Harris said. “I made a couple of key mistakes. It’s really hard for you to drive down the field against a team like Clemson.”
Clemson Coach Danny Ford said: “I don’t think I can be disappointed with any phase of our football team. I think we made him (Harris) have some nervous feet, and we didn’t allow him to use the sideline as well as he has in some games this year.”
Joe Henderson and Wesley McFadden also scored on short runs for Clemson, which closed out a 10-2 season with its fifth consecutive victory. Clemson has won four consecutive bowl games. The 17th-ranked Mountaineers fell to 8-3-1, losing their third consecutive postseason game. It was the first time the two schools had met on a football field.
Henderson’s four-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter gave the Tigers a 17-7 lead. The scoring drive was set up when Harris fumbled at the West Virginia 43.
West Virginia managed to move into Clemson territory only twice after scoring on its initial drive. And on both of those occasions, Harris turned the ball over on the next play.
The Clemson defense, which had forced 34 turnovers during the regular season, also sacked Harris three times for losses totaling 18 yards. Harris, who finished third in this season’s Heisman Trophy voting, passed for 119 yards and ran for only 17 yards in 11 attempts.
A Gator Bowl record 82,911 watched Clemson bounce back from a 7-0 deficit to dominate the Mountaineers and prevent a sweep by major eastern independents in bowl games. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Penn State all have won bowl games.
McFadden’s one-yard run with 2:54 left in the second quarter and Chris Gardocki’s extra-point kick gave Clemson a 10-7 halftime lead. The Tigers used 8:54 of the second quarter on the 17-play, 80-yard drive.