SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Syracuse fans have grown accustomed to names like Floyd Little, Larry Csonka and Ernie Davis. On Saturday afternoon they were introduced to Owen Schmitt.
In the land of tough, physical runners, No. 13 West Virginia used a bruiser of its own to take an early lead and cruise to a 55-14 victory over the Syracuse Orange Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N. Y.
“I’m obviously pleased with the win. I thought we had a good week of practice and the guys were really excited to play a game,” said West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez.
Schmitt got the Mountaineers on the board early, taking an option pitch from Patrick White on third and goal from the seven-yard-line and racing into the end zone to give the Mountaineers a 7-0 lead with 11:59 to go in the first quarter.
The Fairfax, Va., native went back to work in the second quarter, catching a 31-yard screen pass and rumbling past both blockers and defenders down to the Orange 20 yard line. Another 10-yard run set up his second score - a one yard plunge that gave WVU a 28-7 lead late in the first half.
“I thought Owen played outstanding. They way they were playing us Owen was going to get more runs and catches as opposed to blocking,” Rodriguez said. “Owen has got great tailback skills. He’s a 260-pound guy that is hard to tackle in the open field. I thought he was one of the big keys for us offensively today.”
Schmitt even got into the act on special teams, taking a shotgun snap at the Syracuse 40 yard line and pooch punting the ball, pinning Syracuse back at their own 11 yard line.
“We have been practicing that for a couple years,” Rodriguez said. “I thought he had a great kick. I didn’t see our guy touch it on the ten but he must have. That was just a pretty good situation for it.”
Leading 14-7 in the second quarter, West Virginia took control of the game when Reed Williams jarred the ball loose from an Orange receiver on a slant pattern and Keilen Dykes intercepted the carom, taking it 20 yards into the end zone to give the Mountaineers a 21-7 lead with 12:15 remaining in the half.
The interception return was the first defensive score for WVU since Jahmile Addae returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown against Pitt in 2005. It was the first score by a defensive lineman for West Virginia during the Rodriguez era and the first interception return for any Mountaineer defensive lineman since Jeff Seals scored against Boston College in 1981.
“I thought one of the big keys to this game was the turnover and the touchdown the defense got. I think that’s the first defensive score we’ve had in a couple years,” Rodriguez said. “That was a huge huge play in this game and it got all the players on the sideline excited.”
The West Virginia defense dominated the game, holding Syracuse (1-5, 1-1) to just 202 yards of total offense and only 108 yards through the air. Sophomore quarterback Andrew Robinson, who came into the game having not thrown an interception in his last 105 attempts, threw two in the first half, including one to Ryan Mundy on the game’s opening drive. The Mountaineers also forced six Orange fumbles, recovering one, while sacking Robinson twice. Reed Williams led the West Virginia defense with seven tackles and a sack.
“We didn’t get a lot sacks but we got a hand in his face and disrupted a lot of things,” Rodriguez said. “We got the big turnover early and the guys are really excited and really confident in what we’re doing right now defensively.”
West Virginia rolled up 481 yards of total offense, displaying exquisite balance with 251 coming on the ground and 235 via the air. WVU scored points on nine of 12 offensive possessions, while converting 10 of 15 third down situations.
The game saw 10 different West Virginia players carry the ball, led by Steve Slaton’s 69 yards on 15 carries. Slaton also had four catches for 51 yards to register 120 all-purpose yards on the day.
White, Jarrett Brown and Adam Bednarik combined to complete 18 of 21 passes. White was 12 of 15 for 148 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game midway through the third quarter with a strained pectoral muscle. The injury occurred at the end of a 27-yard run when Jameel McClain and Joe Fields fell on White’s shoulder while making the tackle.
“Pat strained a muscle. I don’t know if he got hit there or if he just got twisted around. He’s a little sore now but we have an open week so he will be fine,” Rodriguez said.
Eight different Mountaineers caught passes, led by Darius Reynaud’s six receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown. Reynaud hauled in the 20-yard scoring strike from White on West Virginia’s opening drive of the third quarter to give WVU a 38-7 lead just after halftime.
The 55 points were the most ever allowed by Syracuse in the Carrier Dome and are the most scored on the road by a West Virginia team since beating Rutgers by an identical 55-14 score on Nov. 9 1996. The Mountaineers also exceeded their previous scoring high in the Carrier Dome, eclipsing the 43 points scored in a 43-0 beating of the Orange in 1993.
Jock Sanders scored his first touchdown in a Gold and Blue uniform, taking an inside handoff and racing 11 yards into the corner of the end zone to score West Virginia’s final touchdown of the day.
The win marks the 100th career victory for Rodriguez.
“I just wanted to win. I’m always happy when we win but I didn’t make a play in any of those 100 victories,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t make a tackle and I didn’t make a catch so those players are the ones that deserve all the accolades.”
The Mountaineers have now won six straight against Syracuse, including three in a row at the Carrier Dome.
West Virginia (5-1, 1-1) now has a bye week before hosting Mississippi State on Oct. 20. Kickoff from Milan Puskar Stadium is set for noon.
WV - Schmitt 7 run (McAfee kick)
SYR - Brinkley 1 run (Shadle kick)
WV - White 1 run (McAfee kick)
WV - Dykes 19 interception return (McAfee kick)
WV - Schmitt 1 run (McAfee kick)
WV - McAfee 49 FG
WV - Reynaud 20 pass from White (McAfee kick)
WV - McAfee 23 FG
SYR - Williams 61 pass from Robinson (Shadle kick)
WV - Brown 4 run (McAfee kick)
WV - Sanders 11 run (Glenn kick)