MORGANTOWN - Doug Marrone is pretty much like every other football coach on the planet when it comes to what he likes to see in terms of down-and-distance situations for his offense.
If every down could be first or second and the yardage always manageable, well, the Syracuse coach would be thrilled. He would run the ball, use some play-action passes and occasionally take a few shots down the field.
That's not always the way it's been for the Orange this season, though. Syracuse has shot itself in the foot far too often with penalties or sacks or just plain bad plays that have created way too many second-and-15s or third-and-20s.
"It's been very difficult for us to get out of that hole,'' Marrone said. "Talking to our players about the attention to detail and the focus [to avoid those situations] has been one of the things we've talked about.''
It would behoove the Orange to have made some progress along those lines by the time Friday night rolls around. That's when Syracuse (4-2, 0-1 Big East) hosts No. 11 West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) at the Carrier Dome.
It is also when Syracuse will face a West Virginia defense that appears to be hitting its stride. After some struggles early while replacing seven starters from last season, the Mountaineers have quietly risen to No. 16 in the country in total defense.
"They've been in the same system a long time and they all know how to play it and they play it well,'' Marrone said. "That's why I'm not surprised, even though they have a lot of new starters, that they're still ranked 16th in the country.''
To counter that defense, Syracuse comes into Friday's game with just the 96th-ranked offense in the country. The Orange hasn't been able to run the ball (99th in the country) or throw it (71st) with much success.
But as Syracuse proved a year ago, having a high-powered offense isn't always necessary. The Orange won eight games and went to a bowl for the first time in six years with the No. 73 offense in the country. More significantly to WVU fans, Syracuse beat the Mountaineers without an offense, too, winning 19-14 in Morgantown.
Dana Holgorsen wasn't around for that one, but the first-year West Virginia coach still knows what Syracuse is all about.
"It's pretty obvious what they want to do,'' Holgorsen said. "They want to control the game. They want to get in the huddle and run pro-style stuff and beat you with formations. They want to grind the clock out and get first downs. That's what they did last year and they had some success with it.''