A Rough Afternoon For Smith
By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
October 19, 2011 10:05 AM
|Geno Smith threw three interceptions in last year's game against Syracuse in Morgantown.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
One of Geno Smith’s roughest afternoons as a college quarterback took place last year at sunny Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown against Syracuse.
The then-sophomore completed only 20 of 37 passes for 178 yards under constant duress and was picked off three times, two of those three picks leading to Syracuse field goals and a third taking certain points off the scoreboard for the Mountaineers.
Leading 14-10 at one point, West Virginia was inside the Syracuse 10 and looking to go up 21-10 when Phillip Thomas intercepted Smith in the end zone and returned the football out to the 27.
“Turnovers … those will get you beat,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after reviewing last year’s game tape. “Much like UConn before, we’re talking about West Virginia not being able to get up for that game.”
Had the Mountaineers scored that TD it would have forced Syracuse to switch tactics from controlling the football to throwing more passes (Ryan Nassib finished the game completing just 5 of his 15 attempts for 63 yards). That INT changed the entire complexion of the game.
“What they did to West Virginia controlling the clock, keeping our defense on the field and trying to personnel them with different groups was something that they had success with,” said Holgorsen. “We assume they are going to be doing some of the same stuff they did last year.”
Where the Mountaineers were hurt most was on the ground, particularly in the first half, senior Delone Carter gouging the nationally ranked WVU D for 75 yards on just nine carries before leaving the game late in the second quarter with a bruised hip. Carter’s backup Antwon Bailey also was effective, running 19 times for 94 yards – 60 of those coming in the first half.
Syracuse was also able to run the ball effectively in third-and-long situations, moving the sticks several times against the Mountaineers’ nickel and dime defenses. Overall, Syracuse got 132 of its 183 yards on the ground in the first half – those 183 yards representing the most allowed by West Virginia all season.
“We had a good group last year and Syracuse was able to move the ball by running the football,” said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. “In fact, they were running it on third and 15, 16 on us. They are a physical group and they’ve got all of their offensive linemen back.”
Despite all of its difficulties last year, West Virginia still had an opportunity to win the game late in the fourth quarter, taking over at its own 20 with 6:53 on the clock and marching to the Syracuse 20. WVU converted two third downs and a fourth and four at the Syracuse 42, but ran into trouble on second and 10 at the Syracuse 20 when Smith took a sack for a 12-yard loss.
On third and 22, Smith had Jock Sanders wide open along the sideline for a certain first down but Syracuse pressure forced a hurried throw and the pass fell incomplete. Smith was sacked on fourth down, turning the ball back over to Syracuse and the Orange ran out the clock.
“I’m pretty familiar with how the day went. We jumped out to a lead and didn’t have enough excitement and energy to finish the game,” said Holgorsen.
The WVU offense finished the game with 284 total yards and an average of just 3.9 yards per play.
Also, most of the guys who played on offense last year for Syracuse will also be playing this Friday night against the Mountaineers.
“It depends upon what personnel groupings they use but I think they’ve got nine of their 11 kids back,” said Casteel.
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