Experienced Nassib has Orange offense on a roll
MORGANTOWN - When West Virginia and Syracuse meet Saturday in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, the Mountaineers will not be facing the same type of staid, basic offense they are used to seeing when facing the Orange.
And for a defense that has had the kind of difficulties WVU's has had this season, that's not good news.
"They have everybody back on offense,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They're a very good offensive football team.''
In truth, the last time the two teams met, Syracuse was a pretty good offensive football team. Or at least that was the case for that one night.
The Orange rolled up 443 yards of total offense in a 49-23 rout of West Virginia last season when both teams were in the Big East. Quarterback Ryan Nassib completed 24 of his 32 passes for 229 yards and threw for four touchdowns, three of them to tight end Nick Provo. He also ran for a score.
That, though, was an anomaly. The Orange ranked No. 90 in the country in total offense last season. The year before, Syracuse was No. 97.
This year? They led the Big East in total offense and ranked No. 21 nationally. They have great balance, passing for 302 yards per game and running for 172. They don't score in bunches (29.3 points per game, No. 60 in the country), but they move the football.
And Nassib ranks No. 13 in total offense and leads the Big East. He doesn't have Geno Smith-like numbers, but he's efficient and productive.
"That quarterback just keeps getting better and better,'' Holgorsen said. "He's worked his way up, much like Geno, to where he's going to be a top draft pick and play at the next level.''
Nassib has had some monster games this season, starting with the opener. In a 42-41 loss to Northwestern, he was 45 for 66 for 482 yards and four touchdowns. He passed for 328 yards and four scores against South Florida and 385 and two touchdowns in a win at Missouri in November.
He's also in his third season as a starter and will be facing West Virginia for the fourth time. The Syracuse offense looks a lot different now than it did when he completed six of his 17 passes for 120 yards in a 34-13 loss to the Mountaineers as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
"They're opening it up a little bit more. They trust the quarterback more,'' Holgorsen said. "Their receiver skills are better than they were last year. It just looks like they opened it up a little bit more because they trust him a little bit more, I guess.''
Syracuse has more than just Nassib. Jerome Smith is a 1,019-yard rusher and Alec Lemon is a 1,063-yard receiver. Lemon and fellow wide receiver Marcus Sales have combined for 133 catches, 1,926 yards and 15 touchdowns. Provo is gone, but tight end Beckett Wales has caught 32 passes for 350 yards.
"They're moving the ball well. Shoot, they're averaging [473.4] yards,'' Holgorsen said. "Their points don't add up because they're averaging 29 points a game. But their yards are pretty good.''
More than anything, though, Syracuse doesn't just pound the ball on the ground and throw when necessary, which was often the case the last two times the teams met. Even when SU scored those 49 points last year, it wasn't with a wide-open offense, but by running the ball 41 times and throwing to the tight end (as well as a kickoff return touchdown).
Anything more that Syracuse does now is because of the maturity of Nassib.
"I would assume they trust their quarterback because he just keeps getting better. The better he gets, the more they allow him to do,'' Holgorsen said. "They're very multiple. They'll still get in a two-back, tight end set and they'll run it at you and then spread it out. Then they look like our offense some. They will motion some people and then put people in space and go high tempo sometimes.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1