Big 12 will not be impressed
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Before Friday night's game at the Carrier Dome, much of the buzz at the West Virginia team hotel centered on conference realignment talk. There was no official word whether Missouri was moving to the Southeastern Conference. Hey, though, were the Mountaineers moving to the Big 12?
It was assumed something was up because neither WVU president Jim Clements nor athletic director Oliver Luck showed for the game.
Unfortunately for the school, the team didn't show either.
In one of the most ill-timed collapses in school history, the host Orange shocked WVU by moving out to a 21-9 halftime lead and going on to win 49-23. The performance was not only before an ESPN audience on an off-day for the World Series. It was not only for the Schwartzwalder Trophy. It was not only with the Mountaineers ranked No. 11 and SU coming off a shaky win over Tulane and a loss to Rutgers.
It was a showdown between the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh made it so when the schools announced they were leaving the Big East. It was supposed to be a grudge match. It was supposed to be a way for the jilted league to get a little payback on Syracuse via national television. It was supposed to be time for the league's top-ranked team to move up the polls. It was supposed to be a Mountaineer smackdown of the Orange.
But it was WVU that was smacked down.
In a big, embarrassing way.
In a way that allowed Syracuse, which nipped Rhode Island 21-14, to look like No. 1 LSU.
One could almost see ACC commissioner John Swofford, who engineered not one, but two raids of the Big East, smiling like a Cheshire cat.
Syracuse had energy. WVU played like a dead battery. Mountaineer Jorge Wright was in the neutral zone early. Teammate Pat Miller whiffed not once, but twice while trying to handle Dorian Graham - a backup on the depth chart to SU receiver Van Chew. Geno Smith handled pressure well - until the end of the first quarter.
Then Smith fell to a safety blitz courtesy of Shamarko Thomas. Orange defensive lineman Chandler Jones, in his first action of the season, began to loom large. He dominated West Virginia's best offensive lineman, Don Barclay, for back-to-back sacks. He batted a ball.
WVU began to wilt. Tavon Austin dropped an easy ball. Then Smith, on third-and-8 at the Syracuse 10, threw right into traffic. Jeremi Wilkes, a backup strong safety, picked off the ball off at the goal line.
The West Virginia offensive tempo was bad. Kickoff coverage was bad.
Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen kept calling for the fade. Unfortunately for him, he got it. From his team. Odds are, West Virginia will now fade out of the Top 25 rankings. And it's an ugly blemish in these times of conference talk.
Holgorsen seemed to make a gutsy call to keep his team in the game. On a third-and-just-short-of-9 situation, he checked his notes and signaled for a Shawne Alston run up the gut. He almost got the first down. Then he got it on the next try. Alston scored on Try 3. WVU had climbed within 21-16.
But it was like - can this even be typed? - West Virginia's performance against LSU. After clawing back, the dam broke on the Mountaineers.
Another fine play by Graham, the star of the game, set Syracuse up on the ensuing kickoff. He ran the ball back to the SU 49. West Virginia eventually gave up a touchdown to David Stevens, who - the public address announcer made it known - was chalking up not only his first touchdown of the season, but the first of his career. Stevens, it should be noted, didn't appear on the Syracuse two-deep depth chart. And he's a senior.
The theory it was just another Mountaineer slow start was washed away like dirt in a gully after a hard rain.
WVU played slowly, listlessly. Syracuse played with verve. Keep in mind, Syracuse entered the game last in the Big East in total defense. The Mountaineer defense, meanwhile, helped make quarterback Ryan Nassib look like Aaron Rodgers. Once, on a third-and-8, Nassib zipped a pass to a kid (I'm not playing with WVU fans here) named Jarrod West. He beat Mountaineer defensive back Brantwon Bowser.
Oh, and after Stevens' wide-open touchdown? Those in charge of the Dome decided to played the theme to "Deliverance."
That's correct. A cultural slap on top of the one being carried out on the field.
At game's end, after WVU's Stedman Bailey had looked away and dropped a pass in his hands, the crowd chanted "over-rated" during an injury timeout.
Unfortunately for the guests, though, that was the least embarrassing moment of the evening.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.