MORGANTOWN - Before Saturday's Syracuse-West Virginia Big East football game, an intoxicated fan ran onto the field and lay down on the artificial turf. The WVU band literally marched right over him before the police intervened.
Little did the partisan crowd of 58,122 at Milan Puskar Stadium realize it was a harbinger. The host Mountaineers staggered into the game against the lightly regarded Orange, then allowed SU to march through and over them on a beautiful Homecoming day.
The result was a shocking 19-14 WVU loss to a Syracuse team that lost to Pitt 45-14 last week.
It was shocking for many reasons.
Yes, WVU was ranked, but it was stunning on more than that front.
First, it was surprising because the visitors, not the hosts, came out more fired up, more prepared to fight. Sure, Syracuse wanted to redeem itself after last week's loss. But the Mountaineers had the Big East by the tail. Everyone across the country considered them the cream of the league. They were, we thought, playing for something bigger than the Orange. Plus, they were in front of another rowdy crowd.
It was surprising that heretofore steady WVU quarterback Geno Smith had a poor game. Three interceptions was so unlike him.
The question, however, has to be asked: With a sophomore in his first year as a starter, wasn't that to be expected somewhere along the line?
"Our quarterback had a tough outing,'' said WVU coach Bill Stewart. "When that happens, he needs help.''
Exactly. While Smith's bad outing was surprising, it couldn't have been totally unexpected. So where was that help? It didn't come from his teammates. It most certainly didn't come from the coaching staff.
"I have to do a better job of getting him prepared,'' said Mountaineer offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. "That's my fault, not his. I'm his position coach."
And offensive coordinator. Read what Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said about WVU's offense.
"They're difficult to defend,'' he said. "If you take one out, you've got a lot of other playmakers up there.''
Those playmakers were by and large silent, as they were against South Florida. One can point out that Noel Devine had 122 rushing yards and Smith ended up with a respectable 178 yards passing. But with Devine, Smith, Ryan Clarke, Tavon Austin, Jock Sanders, Brad Starks, J.D. Woods, Stedman Bailey, etc., this team scored 20 points last week against South Florida and 14 against Syracuse? With both games in the friendly confines of Puskar Stadium? With an offensive line that returned almost every player from last season?
Also, there was the stunning number of mental mistakes. There was a muffed punt. Another was allowed to bounce dead at the WVU 6. Then, in one mind-boggling series, WVU had to call timeout because it didn't have enough players on the field; committed a false start; committed an illegal shift; gave up a sack; and threw a pass backward that lost 6 yards, leading to third-and-29. On that third down, the officials waved off a potential illegal forward pass.
Down the stretch, offensive line leader Don Barclay was called for holding. And on the game's last play, Smith didn't even let the ball fly.
"I'm very pleased with how hard we played,'' Stewart said. "The intellectual side of our game was just not good."