Four different ball carriers scored touchdowns and Jarrett Brown was an efficient 22 of 30 for 244 yards and a TD to lead West Virginia to a 34-13 victory over Syracuse Saturday afternoon in newly named Ernie Davis Legends Field in Syracuse, N.Y.
The Mountaineers (4-1, 1-0) jumped out to a 27-0 halftime lead and forced ineffective Syracuse starting quarterback Greg Paulus to the bench. Replacing Paulus was backup Ryan Nassib, who fired two second-half TD passes to Mike Williams and Marcus Sales when West Virginia was comfortably ahead.
"I'm very, very pleased with how fast we started," said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. "Last year we had a problem with early games. We had a problem with setting our alarm and not coming out of the gate. I'm very pleased that that was accomplished today."
Paulus, who threw five picks during last weekend’s loss to South Florida, opened the game with another crucial mistake that led to West Virginia’s first score. After taking the ball to the West Virginia 30, Syracuse tried a trick play on third and two, Paulus attempting a throwback pass that landed right into the belly of defensive tackle Josh Taylor.
During Taylor’s return, he fumbled the football where linebacker Pat Lazear alertly scooped it up and ran 53 yards down the near sideline to the Syracuse 11. On the very next play Brown flipped a swing pass out into the flat to Devine, where he made two spin moves to get into the end zone for an 11-yard score.
The next two times West Virginia had the football it scored on long, time-consuming drives. The first scoring drive covered 80 yards in 14 plays (aided by a pair of Syracuse defensive penalties) and was culminated with Ryan Clarke’s 1-yard touchdown blast.
Clarke got into the end zone a second time from 3 yards after an impressive seven-play drive that chewed up 93 yards of real estate. Three big pass plays by Brown – 27 yards to Bradley Starks, 16 yards to Jock Sanders, and 33 yards down the sideline to tight end Will Johnson – set up Clarke’s second score. A low snap blew up West Virginia’s PAT, making the score 20-0.
"They showed a lot on defense today schematically," said West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. "It was hard to find a beat on them so we did a lot of the hard-look stuff to try to get the ball in the right spots at the right times and I think J.B. did a great job of getting that done for us."
The Mountaineers fourth touchdown of the first half came as the result of a 49-yard punt return by Brandon Hogan, who was dragged down by Dan Vaughan at the Syracuse nine. From there, Jock Sanders took it into the end zone.
West Virginia had a chance to get more points on the board right before the end of the half when Scott Kozlowski’s pooch punt was downed at the Syracuse 1 and the defense held, forcing Syracuse to punt the ball back with a minute and a half remaining in the half.
Sanders took Rob Long’s punt at the Syracuse 46 and looked like he had clear turf to the near side of the field but he stumbled trying to make a cut at the Orange 38.
Then two sacks by Arthur Jones and Doug Hogue pushed West Virginia out of field goal range to end the half.
West Virginia’s only score of the second half came after Mike Williams burned the WVU secondary for a 50-yard touchdown with 9:52 remaining in the third quarter.
"How do you stop Mike Williams?" asked Stewart. "You don't. You just try to keep the (big plays) to a minimum and I'm pleased that our defense did that."
The Mountaineers took over at their own 40 with 4:10 left in the third quarter, and held the ball for the remainder of the quarter. At the beginning of the fourth quarter Devine slipped in from the four. A key play on the drive was a 26-yard pass to Starks to the Syracuse 26.
Then Nassib, who completed 7 of 16 passes for 120 yards, hit Marcus Sales for a 24-yard TD to wrap up the scoring.
Brown gave way to freshman Geno Smith in the fourth quarter. Smith completed 3 of 4 passes for 14 yards with mostly backups on the field for the Mountaineers.
Devine finished the game with 91 yards on 22 carries, while Sanders led West Virginia receivers with nine catches for 67 yards. Nine different players caught passes for the Mountaineers.
"There is a method to my madness and those who don't know football might not understand that," said Stewart of his willingess to get other players involved in the offense. "I am going to continue to spread the wealth, I'm going to continue to throw the ball deep and I want to keep people off of us."
Williams managed to catch four passes for 89 yards for Syracuse, which finished the game with only 222 yards of offense. The Orange running could manage only 72 yards on 24 carries.
"I think our guys played with a little bit of energy and I think they played with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder," said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "I think we play a little bit better like that.
"The key for this is for us to go out next week and play a little bit better. If we can continue to do that you end up being a good football team the eighth, ninth, 10th week of the season. That's our goal."
The Mountaineers had a 74-49 advantage in total plays and a 385-222 edge in total yardage. Syracuse was 0 of 12 on its third-down tries today.
"We talked about getting off the field - we got off the field," said Stewart.
West Virginia’s victory was its eighth in a row against Syracuse to keep the Schwartzwalder Trophy in Morgantown for another year. The Mountaineers have also won four straight in Syracuse dating back to 2003. WVU is getting closer in the all-time series, now trailing the Orange 30-27.
Syracuse drops to 2-4, 0-2 with the loss.
West Virginia has one non-conference game remaining against Marshall in Morgantown next Saturday before resuming league play against Connecticut on Oct. 24.