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 dphickm...@aol.com.