2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 8 - West Virginia at Syracuse
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Oct. 22 at Syracuse 49 … West Virginia 23
CFN Analysis: Syracuse needed to pitch a near-perfect game to beat the Mountaineers, and it did. With no turnovers, just three penalties, and with third down conversion after third down conversion, everything worked in the biggest win of the Doug Marrone era by far. Now the Orange might be a top 25 team and now, with Rutgers losing to Louisville, the Big East title is a possibility if the offense can stay balanced and Ryan Nassib can continue to be as efficient and as effective as he was against the Mountaineers. Antwon Bailey closed things out by running well late, Nick Provo was a strong go-to target catching six passes for 61 yards and three scores, and the defense played with a spring in its step and an aggressiveness it didn’t show much of this year. Despite giving up 338 yards, the much-maligned pass defense did its job with two interceptions, and now with road games against Louisville and Connecticut coming up, and now worries about the opposing passing games, the run could continue.
After a couple of dominant, brilliant performances against Bowling Green and Connecticut, the Mountaineers came up with a strangely unfocused performance. Geno Smith wasn’t good enough early on, and while he threw well to pile up the yards in the second half, it was too late. His best pass play, a brilliant 64-yard connection to Stedman Bailey, was ruined by special teams gaffes with a missed extra point and a breakdown on the ensuing kickoff for a score. It’s not quite right to blame a loss like this on not having enough energy, but Syracuse was flying around and playing at another level, and the Mountaineers didn’t respond. Usually it’s a tale of two halves in WVU games, but the switch didn’t go on in the second half. Against Rutgers next week and its nasty, aggressive defense, getting off to a hotter start will be a must.
(AP) SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Ryan Nassib threw three touchdown passes to tight end Nick Provo, Dorian Graham returned a kickoff 98 yards for another score, and Syracuse stunned No. 11 West Virginia 49-23 on Friday night with a spirited effort on both sides of the ball.
Syracuse (5-2, 1-1 Big East) hadn't beaten West Virginia (5-2, 1-1) in the Carrier Dome in a decade, and the Orange played a near flawless game to break the streak just as they did last year in a 19-14 upset of the Mountaineers in Morgantown. That victory stopped an eight-game losing streak to West Virginia, and this one was even more impressive.
Syracuse hadn't scored that many points in the series since a 45-0 win in 1960, and a Carrier Dome crowd of 45,265, the largest in three years, roared its approval with thunderous cheers as third-year head coach Doug Marrone enjoyed the most significant win of his brief tenure.
The high-powered West Virginia offense led by Geno Smith was kept in check most of the game, only shining in fits and spurts.
West Virginia entered the game averaging 40.8 points and 503.5 yards offensively and finished with 408 against the hard-hitting Syracuse defense.
Smith was 24 of 41 for 338 yards and two touchdowns, and his interceptions came at critical junctures -- the first at the Orange goal line and the second on the final play of the third quarter when the game was still within reach.
Stedman Bailey had seven catches for 130 yards and one touchdown and Tavon Austin had six catches for 60 yards for West Virginia.
Nassib was 24 of 32 for 229 yards and four touchdowns and no turnovers, also hitting David Stevens on a 29-yarder midway through the third quarter that gave Syracuse a 28-16 lead.
Both teams, off last week, had plenty of time to game plan and Syracuse devised a winning formula.
Smith entered the game ranked fifth nationally in passing yardage at 359.3 yards per game, nearly 26 yards more than the Orange as a team. On this night, a team that was averaging just 333.5 yards per game reeled off 443 against a highly touted defense.
Undaunted, Syracuse built a 12-point halftime lead and when West Virginia tried to rally in the second half, Syracuse had an answer and then some.
When Smith guided the Mountaineers 57 yards in 14 plays and Shawne Alston scored on a 1-yard run on the first possession of the third quarter, the Orange struck right back in just six plays.
Nassib thwarted a blitz by hitting Van Chew for 6 yards on a third-and-5 play and then hit a wide-open Stevens along the left side inside the Mountaineers 10 for a 29-yard score.
Provo caught a 10-yard scoring pass with 18 seconds left in the third and a 5-yarder early in the fourth after free safety Phillip Thomas intercepted Smith at the West Virginia 33.
Syracuse entered the game with an important goal -- keep the ball as long as possible -- and the strategy worked as the Orange held possession for nearly 36 minutes, converting an impressive 12 of 17 third downs.
West Virginia had only two possessions in the opening quarter while the Orange kept the ball for more than 6 minutes on their second possession and drove 84 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Syracuse converted three third downs, tried a flea-flicker that didn't work and an end around that did, and Graham's catch and run for 27 yards gave the Orange a first-and-goal from the 7.
Nassib finished the 14-play drive by hitting Provo in the back of the end zone with a 3-yard scoring pass after a pretty fake at the line to tailback Antwon Bailey.
West Virginia moved within 7-3 on Tyler Bitancurt's 27-yard field goal with 66 seconds left in the first quarter after a blitz by strong safety Shamarko Thomas forced Smith into an incompletion on third-and-goal from the 10.
The Mountaineers never found any kind of rhythm, and it showed on the scoreboard. Smith left the field at halftime with 215 yards passing and his team trailing 21-9, a 64-yard touchdown pass to Bailey one of the few bright spots.
Bailey made a brilliant juggling catch, beating double coverage along the left side at the Syracuse 30, but Bitancurt spoiled the celebration a little bit when he missed the extra point, his first botch of the season after hitting 30 in a row.
It moved the Mountaineers within 14-9 and they seemed poised to take control. Then, just like that Syracuse dashed that hope when Graham returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.
The Syracuse defense confounded Smith with an assortment of blitzes, batted down two of his passes, sacked him two straight times, and picked off one of his passes in the first half. And when Syracuse needed a break on offense deep in West Virginia territory, the Mountaineers obliged.
After a wide-open Provo dropped a pass in the end zone, putting Syracuse in a third-and-7 hole from the 13, defensive end Bruce Irvin was called for a personal foul when he got tangled up with Syracuse offensive tackle Michael Hay and threw him to the ground. That gave the Orange a first down at the 6 and two plays later Nassib scored on a 1-yard keeper for a 14-3 lead with 10:13 left in the half.
Smith hit Willie Milhouse for 43 yards to move the Mountaineers deep into Syracuse territory with time winding down in the opening half, but Jeremi Wilkes intercepted Smith's third-down pass at the goal line.
The win allowed the Orange to keep possession of the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy. Schwartzwalder was born in West Virginia, played center for the Mountaineers, and remains the winningest coach in Syracuse history.
West Virginia (5-1) at Syracuse (4-2) Oct. 21, 8:00, ESPN
Here’s The Deal … The start of the second half of the season marks the unofficial beginning of West Virginia’s run toward its first outright Big East championship since 2007, when Rich Rodriguez was still on the payroll. While a slew of schools have been mentioned as possible future members in the uncertain world of the Big East, only eight teams are eligible for this year’s automatic BCS bowl bid. Realistically, about half that number has a fighter’s chance, with the Mountaineers packing the biggest punch. They’ve lost just once, to LSU, and have started to get comfortable in rookie head coach Dana Holgorsen’s offensive system.
Syracuse has been living dangerously so far this fall, slipping past Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Toledo and Tulane by no more than seven points. On the one hand, the Orange has proven to be a survivor, able to persevere in close games. On the other, it’s a flawed squad that’s just waiting to get exposed once the caliber of the competition improves. Head coach Doug Marrone will learn a lot about the potential of his club this Friday night.
Why West Virginia Might Win: Three of Syracuse’s last four opponents scored at least 30 points on the Orange. The Mountaineers are primed to make it four of the last five. It took a few weeks, but West Virginia has begun to sharpen its execution with the ball, rising to No. 4 nationally in passing behind the sharp strikes of QB Geno Smith. Heck, Smith has already broken the single-game school mark for passing yards … twice. The junior has been aided by the maturation of playmaking receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney, who are improving on a weekly basis. Plus, the emergence of big-play RB Dustin Garrison, who’s rushed for 371 yards the last two games, will help to ensure that Syracuse can’t commit too many resources to clogging up passing lanes.
Why Syracuse Might Win: If the Orange is going to pull the upset, it’ll need to put up a bunch of points, which it’s shown a penchant of doing this fall. In all but the win over Rhode Island, ironically, Syracuse scored at least 33 points. Although not at the same level as West Virginia, Syracuse has a quality mix of veterans that begins with the backfield duo of QB Ryan Nassib and RB Antwon Bailey. Nassib has been shaky of late, but has shown an ability to effectively spread the ball around to his wide receivers and TE Nick Provo. Bailey is a steady producer on the ground, grinding out more than 100 yards rushing in each of the last three games.
What To Watch Out For: The Mountaineers have played very well on defense over the last two weeks. If that happens to be the early stages of a trend, it’ll be tough for the other seven members to keep them from winning the Big East championship. West Virginia held Bowling Green to 217 total yards, and kept the Connecticut offense out of the end zone last Saturday. Consistent with Jeff Casteel’s defenses, the ‘eers are getting a collaborative effort, from DE Bruce Irvin up front to LB Jewone Snow, S Terence Garvin and CB Keith Tandy in the back seven. This is a 10-win program if Casteel’s unit continues to mesh the way it has over the last two weekends.
What Will Happen: West Virginia is peaking at a most opportune time in the season. The offense is beginning to click, and the defense is playing its best ball of the year. Surging and well-rested, it’ll be a tall order for an average Syracuse team. The Mountaineers will have too many weapons for the Orange, especially on a fast indoor track. Smith will continue his push to becoming the league’s offensive player of the year with three touchdown passes and more than 300 yards through the air.
CFN Prediction: West Virginia 35 … Syracuse 20
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