Syracuse shocker: WVU picked apart in romp
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- A year ago, Syracuse figured out a way to neutralize West Virginia's offense, control the ball against its defense and hand the Big East's only nationally-ranked team a stunning loss.
Hey, if it worked once, right?
This time, though, the Orange added quite a few wrinkles. Not only did SU control an even better WVU offense than last year's, it knifed through the Mountaineer defense like it wasn't there.
The result was a shocking 49-23 win in the front of a crowd of 45,265 at the Carrier Dome Friday night.
"You have to take your hat off to Syracuse,'' West Virginia quarterback Geno said about 45 minutes after the loss. "They hit us in the mouth and it hurts.''
Indeed, it will hurt in more ways than one.
For starters, it's a setback that will send No. 11 West Virginia (5-2, 1-1 Big East) tumbling down in the polls. And, once again, it sends a signal that the Big East is wide open for the taking. With the league season barely a few weeks old, the only unbeaten team in league play is Cincinnati, which has played just once and has to visit South Florida today.
And Syracuse (5-2, 1-1) is right there in the mix. The Orange had seemed to barely survive for most of the season, winning three games in overtime and another on a last-second field goal.
There was no need for any such heroics Friday night, though.
Syracuse controlled the game from the start and answered every challenge the Mountaineers threw at it, although those were few and far between. SU led 14-3, 21-9 at halftime and 42-16 early in the fourth quarter. The only times WVU seemed to make a push they closed the score to 14-9 and 21-16, but both times the Orange answered quickly and decisively.
And West Virginia's defense could do nothing about it.
"They just physically whipped us from the opening whistle to the end of it,'' WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "Hats off to them. They did a great job.''
How bad was it? Well, Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib is not thought of as a great passer -- he ranks only third in the Big East-- but against WVU he completed 24 of 32 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns. He completed passes to nine different receivers and on three of his four TD passes his receivers were comically wide open.
"We obviously had some missed assignments,'' Casteel said. "We came off a wheel route once and left the guy. Any time you have a guy that wide open, someone has obviously made a mistake.''
It wasn't just the wide-open passes that hurt West Virginia, though. Nassib also completed a ton of them in close quarters, sometimes after they'd been tipped. And Syracuse was able to run the ball to. Antwon Bailey rushed for 125 yards and the Orange piled up 443 yards of total offense, more than any WVU opponent this season other than Maryland. SU ran for 194 yards.
Meanwhile, West Virginia offense sputtered and limped along, failing for the first time this season to warm up as the game went along. A year ago, in a 19-14 loss to Syracuse in Morgantown, Smith was sacked five times and intercepted three times. The pressure was similar this time and Smith suffered four sacks and two interceptions.
"It [the pressure] just threw us off a little bit,'' Smith said. "We knew they blitz half the time, we knew how to protect it and we knew what to do. But we just didn't execute to the best of our abilities.''
Smith completed 24 of 41 passes for 338 yards and threw touchdowns to Stedman Bailey and Brad Starks, but his picks were untimely, to say the least. One was at the goal line to end a scoring threat in the first half and the other all but closed the game out one play after Syracuse had gone up 35-16.
The Mountaineers had 408 yards of offense, a low for the season save for the three-quarters game against Marshall. West Virginia rushed for just 70 yards.
West Virginia's last gasp came early in the second half. Trailing 21-9 at the half after giving up two long scoring drives and a 98-yard kickoff return for touchdowns, WVU immediately cut into the lead with Syracuse-style football. The Mountaineers went 57 yards on 14 plays with the second-half kickoff and scored when they first converted fourth-and-inches inside the SU 1 and then scored a play later, both on runs by Shawne Alston. That made the score 21-16.
It seemed that might be the start. WVU has made it a habit of pushing the pedal in the second half and running away from teams.
Syracuse, though, didn't flinch. Another long kickoff return allowed the Orange to start at midfield and in just six plays Nassib hit a wide-open David Stevens for a 29-yard touchdown and it was 28-16.
One series later, the Orange drove 72 yards in 11 plays and Nassib again hit a wide-open receiver, Nick Provo, for a 10-yard score and a 35-16 lead. When Smith stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush and threw woefully short of Tavon Austin downfield, SU's Phillip Thomas easily picked the ball off and returned it to the WVU 35 on the last play of the third quarter.
Syracuse then efficiently drove for another touchdown -- Nassib's third TD pass to Provo from 5 yards away -- it was 42-16 and over. The teams traded meaningless touchdowns after that.
"We knew what we were getting ourselves into,'' said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "They beat us on all three sides of the ball. They outplayed us and outcoached us. It's as simple as that.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.