Syracuse Upsets WVU
All of the scoring took place in the first half, with 24 of those points coming in the first quarter.
“We won a football game,” said Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. “We are going to enjoy it and then get back to work.”
Two of quarterback Geno Smith’s three picks led to Syracuse field goals while a third INT took away sure points when Phillip Thomas’ interception in the end zone took the ball out to the Orange 27.
“I thought Geno stayed in there and played pretty tough, but he just had a hard day,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart.
Before Thomas’s interception, West Virginia was leading 14-10 and was looking to get a two-score margin, which would have forced Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who was just 5-of-15 for 63 yards for the game, to go to the air more frequently.
But it didn’t happen.
Marrone was content to keep it conservative on offense, not make mistakes, and rely on his veteran defense. It was the same formula he used to upset South Florida in Tampa two weeks ago.
Syracuse (5-2, 1-1) did move the ball well on the ground during the first two quarters before West Virginia adjusted at halftime. The Orange got 132 of their 183 rushing yards in the first half, frequently sticking to the run on obvious third down passing situations against the Mountaineers’ third down defensive packages.
Senior Delone Carter gouged West Virginia for 75 yards on just nine carries before leaving the game late in the second quarter with a bruised hip. Antwon Bailey picked up where Carter left off, gaining 94 yards on 19 carries for the afternoon, with 60 of those coming in the first half.
After intermission, the Mountaineer defense did what they had to do by holding Syracuse to just four first downs. But West Virginia’s offense couldn’t find a rhythm against the Orange’s 18th-ranked defense, punting all three times it had the football in the third quarter.
At that point Marrone kept running the ball and using the clock to shorten the game and make West Virginia drive the length of the field against his defense.
And the Mountaineers couldn’t do it.
At the start of the fourth quarter with West Virginia pinned back at its six, two Syracuse personal foul penalties moved the ball to the 36, and the Mountaineers eventually got to midfield before a false start and an illegal shift sent the ball back to the 37. That enabled Syracuse defensive coordinator Scott Shaffer to bring pressure – which he did frequently anyway – sacking Smith for a two yard loss, hauling Devine down for a six-yard loss on a screen pass, and then forcing Smith to miss Brad Starks on third and 28 pass play.
Later, the WVU offense got the ball back at its own 30 with 6:35 left in the game. Smith found Tavon Austin out in the flat for 11 yards to the 41 and hooked up with Sanders for five more. Then two short runs by Devine and Clark got the ball to the Syracuse 48.
Three more Devine runs netted six yards to make it fourth and four at the Syracuse 44, where Smith scrambled for 11 to the 31. Once again a flag – this time a holding call on tackle Don Barclay – sent the ball back to the 41.
It looked like Smith was going to bail West Virginia out on third and 16 when he hung in the pocket long enough to hit J.D. Woods for 17 yard pass to the Syracuse 20 with a minute and a half remaining on the clock.
But Devine was stopped for no gain on first down before Smith took a blindside sack for a loss of 12 back to the 32, forcing the Mountaineers to burn their second timeout. Smith’s third down pass to Sanders along the far sideline was incomplete, presenting West Virginia with a nearly impossible fourth and 22 try at the 32 with 49 seconds left in the game.
Smith, under heavy pressure, was pulled down at the 36 by Phillip Thomas and Anthony Perkins for Syracuse’s fifth sack of the afternoon.
After that, all Syracuse needed to do was take a knee to run out the clock.
“Our quarterback needed help,” said Stewart. “His first interception in the middle he’ll never throw in the middle like that again. We had a hard time protecting him. We tried to get the ball around to different people and I can’t tell you how many times their safety made one-on-one tackles in the middle of the field.”
“We tried to mix it up today on defense,” added Marrone, who could frequently be seen working the officials on the sidelines and getting in the faces of his players. “We just wanted to change up some looks and try to get a lot of people around the football.”
Syracuse finished the game averaging 4.6 yards per play, 4.2 yards per pass attempt and was only 4 of 14 on third down. But Orange punter Rob Long averaged 51.7 yards per kick, pinning two inside the 20, and they also benefitted from nine West Virginia penalties for 94 yards – the big one coming against Keith Tandy on his interception and return that took the football deep into Syracuse territory late in the first half. Tandy’s pick was wiped out when he was flagged for pushing down the Syracuse receiver during the play. Instead of West Virginia having the ball at the Syracuse 18, the Orange got a fresh set of downs at the WVU 32. Krautman eventually kicked a 33-yard field goal to give Syracuse a 16-14 lead.
Syracuse's only touchdown of the game was a 29-yard Nassib-to-Van Chew pass in the first quarter.
Smith completed 20 of 37 passes for 178 yards and a 6-yard touchdown to Tavon Austin. It was the second time this season the sophomore failed to throw at least two touchdown passes in a game, the other coming in WVU’s overtime win at Marshall.
Devine ran 24 times for 122 yards to move into fourth place on WVU’s all-time rushing list with 4,007 career yards.
Woods was West Virginia’s leading receiver with 52 yards on four catches.
The victory snapped Syracuse’s eight-game losing streak to the Mountaineers and stopped cold a WVU 12-game home winning streak at Milan Puskar Stadium spanning back to the 2008 season.
“It was a tough football game and a very physical football game,” said Stewart. “I am very pleased with how hard we played, but not at all pleased with how we played intellectually.”
West Virginia (5-2, 1-1) has a quick turnaround, traveling to Connecticut to play the Huskies on Friday night. UConn plays Louisville this afternoon.
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