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Bronx bummer

AP Photo
Syracuse's Jarrod West (88) and Beckett Wales (85) begin to celebrate as Prince-Tyson Gulley (23) runs for a second-quarter touchdown against West Virginia.

NEW YORK - Perhaps now West Virginia knows what it was like to be Clemson last bowl season.

No, the Mountaineers didn't give up 70 points. Their performance - or lack thereof - did not set a ton of records.

But as far as having just about everything go wrong that could, well, West Virginia saw that happen and then some.

Despite being stymied by a combination of weather and simple incompetence on offense, the Mountaineers somehow stayed with Syracuse for a little over a half Saturday in the Pinstripe Bowl. But then a meltdown of epic proportions on both sides of the ball allowed the Orange to run away and hide.

The final score was 38-14 in front of a crowd of 39,098 at snowy Yankee Stadium. It left WVU with a record of 7-6 for the season, its worst mark since Rich Rodriguez's first team went 3-8 in 2001. And this from a team that was, at one point in the season, 5-0 and ranked in the top five.

"This is not the way we wanted to go out,'' said Stedman Bailey. "But life goes on. We wanted to go out on a good note and we didn't.''

It was a simply awful way to go out for a group of West Virginia seniors that includes record-smashers Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, as well as Bailey, a junior who is leaving early for the NFL draft.

How bad was it? Well, Smith was either sacked or penalized for two safeties. He completed 16 of 24 passes for just 197 yards. He did throw two touchdowns to Bailey, who had seven catches for 126 yards, but Austin had just two catches for 21 yards and ran 12 times for 54.

The failure of West Virginia's offense to perform was just the tip of the iceberg. The defense also gave up 369 rushing yards and the team overall was penalized 10 times for 106 yards. The offense did not convert a single third down in 11 attempts, the defense allowed Syracuse to convert nine of 18 third downs and the special teams had a field goal blocked, a kickoff go out of bounds and two decent Austin returns brought back by penalties.

Indeed, this was a team effort.

"We did a poor job of overcoming adversity,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said, referring not only to the snow, cold and slick playing surface, but the Mountaineers' own mistakes that seemed to compound.

Syracuse had no such issues. The Orange had some adversity, including a pair of turnovers. Ryan Nassib threw for just 134 yards.

But he did pass for two TDs and Syracuse ran wild with 369 yards. Prince-Tyson Gulley, a backup tailback who had never had even a 100-yard game, had 25 carries for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 56 yards and a score. Starting tailback Jerome Smith carried 30 times for 157 yards.

Ironically, that came against a West Virginia defense that after the regular season changed defensive coordinators in part because the Mountaineers could stop the run but were No. 119 in the country against the pass. In the snowy conditions Saturday, it was just the opposite.

"Through the course of the game I was absolutely shocked that they were able to run the football,'' said Keith Patterson, the new coordinator. "I felt those guys ran harder than any two backs we'd faced all year. But obviously I didn't get that message across.''

West Virginia had played awful offense most of the first half and into the second, yet somehow managed to remain competitive to that point, trailing 12-7 at the break and 19-7 after Syracuse took the second-half kickoff and scored. And when Andrew Buie appeared to score on a 28-yard run early in the third, the WVU deficit might have been cut to 19-14 and the game could have become something.

It didn't. Buie's TD was erased by a holding penalty that so enraged Holgorsen that he wasted a time out just to complain. A punt was followed by an Isaiah Bruce interception that appeared to breathe new life into the Mountaineers, but Smith turned right around on the next play and fumbled the ball away. It appeared it might have been an incomplete pass, but it wasn't ruled that way.

Then it was all downhill. On the next play Gulley scored on a 67-yard run. After Bailey countered with a 29-yard scoring catch, Syracuse went 70 yards in nine plays and converted a third-and-long - that was a recurring theme on the day - and went up 33-14 on a Nassib pass to Gulley.

And then when Smith was called for intentional grounding in his own end zone, it was the second safety of the day and absolute rock bottom for the Mountaineers. That made it 35-14 and the game was over, even though the third quarter wasn't.

It seemed to all start with that touchdown by Buie that was nullified and the Mountaineers couldn't recover.

"I think at that point in the game it really affected us,'' said Smith. "It affected us momentum-wise. We were charging back and that was big. We never recovered.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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