Back to the Drawing Board
By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
October 23, 2011 01:00 PM
|West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said his team got beat in all three phases during Friday night's 49-23 loss at Syracuse Friday night.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
So, what happened Friday night?
How was Syracuse able to win so convincingly against a West Virginia team many believed was sitting in the catbird’s seat just two weeks ago after a impressive 43-16 victory over defending Big East champ Connecticut?
Is Syracuse, which beat Rhode Island by just a touchdown, benefited from an officiating error to defeat Toledo in overtime, and needed a fourth quarter rally to knock off Tulane two weeks ago, really 26 points better than West Virginia?
Well, it looked that way on Friday night.
“This is one you can’t even think of a good excuse to make,” said veteran defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich. “We got beat.”
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen says the Mountaineers were beat in all three phases of the game by the Orange.
Offensively, the Mountaineers were bothered by Syracuse pressure, the Orange coming after quarterback Geno Smith (and hitting him) on nearly every pass attempt. Smith was sacked four times, threw two interceptions including a pick in the end zone late in the second quarter when the Mountaineers were working hard to get back into the game, and completed just 58.5 percent of his pass attempts for the game.
It was the same defensive approach Syracuse used last year against Smith to defeat the Mountaineers 19-14 in Morgantown. Smith has thrown five of his 13 career interceptions against the Orange defense.
“Their pass rush was better than our pass blocking,” said Holgorsen. “We were exposed by their D-line and linebackers just physically beating us up front.”
An erratic kick coverage unit once again reared its ugly head by allowing Dorian Graham to return a second quarter kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, and then, after West Virginia had closed to within six early in the third quarter, permitted Jeremiah Kobena to return Tyler Bitancurt’s kick 47 yards to the 49. Six plays later, Syracuse was in the end zone for another touchdown.
Graham’s return was the third TD the kick and punt coverage units have allowed this year.
“Our kickoff team didn’t do a very good job of getting down the field and their kickoff team ran right through us,” said Holgorsen. “It’s very easy to see that they physically whipped us and played harder than we did.”
And what we thought was an improving Mountaineer defense couldn’t get off the field against a Syracuse offense that came into the game ranking anywhere from 70th to 100th in the country in almost every statistical category.
Yet the Orange was able to rush for 194 yards – the most by a WVU opponent since Florida State ran for 226 on it in the 2009 Gator Bowl – and finished the game with 23 first downs and 443 yards of total offense.
Syracuse averaged 4.7 yards per carry and that enabled quarterback Ryan Nassib to pick apart a drawn-up WVU defense that needed to bring more guys into the box to help stop the run. Because of that, tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens were free to catch a combined eight passes for 95 yards and four touchdowns.
“We had guys in the vicinity but they were just a step ahead of us,” said Holgorsen.
Toss in an additional 174 yards in kickoff return yardage and the Mountaineers did a lot more chasing than tackling on Friday night.
“We didn’t help each other out,” explained Kirelawich. “Defense didn’t help offense, offense didn’t help defense and the kicking game didn’t help either of us. It was one of those things where it got progressively worse as it went on.”
It was obvious that Syracuse owned the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. The Orange offense consistently won first down and finished the game converting 12 of their 17 third-down tries, while West Virginia’s O-line couldn’t keep defensive end Chandler Jones out of the backfield, Jones finishing the game with a pair of sacks and two tackles for losses. On the flip side, the Mountaineer defense didn’t produce a single negative yardage play the entire evening.
“We didn’t make a play on first down,” said Kirelawich. “First down was like a gimme down for them all night. That’s nobody’s fault but ours.”
Alarmingly, everything the defensive staff prepared the Mountaineer players for they saw on Friday night.
“There wasn’t one surprise out there,” Kirelawich said. “There was not one thing different than what we had planned for and practiced against over and over and over for two weeks. It was a matter of execution; we didn’t execute and they did.
“There is not a defense in your pocket that you can pull out for second and three or second and four, when you start getting into that then you’re just grab-bagging defensively.”
Next week’s opponent Rutgers, as well as West Virginia’s remaining foes Louisville, Cincinnati, Pitt and USF, will take plenty from this game. Look for defenses to continue to bring pressure on Smith until West Virginia can figure out how to handle it and make them pay for it, and look for even more between-the-tackle runs from offenses until the Mountaineers can come up with a way to stop it without bringing eight or nine guys into the box.
“We have to regroup, we have to get back to the drawing board and the season is far from over,” said Kirelawich. “We’ll see what happens.”Briefly:
West Virginia dropped to No. 24 in the USA Today coaches' and 25th the Associated Press polls released earlier today.
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