Syracuse 49, West Virginia 23
“Syracuse beat us physically and they beat us on all three sides of the ball – they out-played us and they out-coached us, it’s as simple as that,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
On a night when Syracuse recognized the 50th anniversary of Ernie Davis winning the Heisman Trophy, the Orange got a big-game performance from Nassib, who is on pace to become the school’s most prolific passer.
And he certainly helped his ascent in the Syracuse record books tonight against a Mountaineer defense that couldn’t stop the run on first down, and was burned by play-action passing because of it. Nassib hooked up with tight end Nick Provo for three touchdown passes of 3, 10 and 5 yards, and he also found backup tight end David Stevens for a 25-yard score on the Orange’s first possession of the third quarter.
Syracuse tight ends combined to catch 10 passes for 101 yards and four touchdowns.
“We had guys in the vicinity but they were just a step ahead of us,” said Holgorsen.
Antwon Bailey, who ran for 94 yards against the Mountaineers in last year’s 19-14 win, had another big game against a West Virginia defense that is having a difficult time stopping opposing team’s running backs. Bailey ran for 125 yards and a touchdown, and Syracuse finished the game with 194 yards on the ground.
It was the third time in the last five games the West Virginia defense has given up at least 180 yards rushing, surrendering 188 to Maryland in week three and 186 to LSU in week four.
“If you win first down then you’ve got a chance to get them off the field. Not only did we not win first down, we didn’t win third down either,” said Holgorsen. “They completely dominated us and it was on all three sides. This was a team loss and I give Syracuse credit for having their team more excited to play and being more physical and whipping us in all three phases of the game.”
At the outset, it appeared Syracuse (5-2, 1-1) was content to control the ball, work the clock and keep West Virginia’s offense off the field. But that changed after West Virginia pulled to within six, 21-15, on its first possession of the second half. Then Jeremiah Kobena returned Tyler Bitancurt’s kickoff 47 yards to the 49. Earlier in the game, the West Virginia kickoff unit saw Dorian Graham run right past them 98 yards for a touchdown – the third TD return the Mountaineers’ two coverage units have allowed this season.
“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 this.”
After Kobena’s return gave Syracuse great field position at midfield, the Orange got right back into the end zone when Nassib found Stevens behind the West Virginia defense for a 29-yard touchdown.
From there, the avalanche began.
Provo’s second TD catch made the score 35-16, and his third touchdown reception expanded Syracuse’s lead to 42-16 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith faced constant pressure all night, getting hit by a Syracuse defender on just about every one of his 41 passing attempts. He was sacked four times and was picked off twice, including a big interception in the Syracuse end zone late in the second quarter when West Virginia was trailing 21-9.
Smith finished the game 24-of-41 for 338 yards and two TDs, but also threw two picks and five of his 13 career interceptions have now come against Syracuse.
“They blitzed almost every snap and their pass rush was better than our pass blocking,” explained Holgorsen. “That’s where it really exposes you. It was exposed by their D-line and their linebackers just beating us up front. If you flip the thing on the other side, their offensive line mauled us. Up front is where it really gets exposed.”
Stedman Bailey had his fifth straight 100-yard receiving performance, finishing tonight’s game with 130 yards on seven catches, including a pretty 64-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
Brad Starks caught the other Smith TD toss - a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter - while Shawne Alston got into the end zone from the 1 on WVU’s opening possession of the second half.
Dustin Garrison led the Mountaineer rushing attack with 58 yards on 11 carries.
“We’re not a very efficient football team,” said Holgorsen. “We were able to make some big plays but we’re not efficient. We knew what they were going to do. We knew they were going to play a bunch of people up and blitz half the time and keep a lid on us.
“We’ve just got to do a better job of recognizing that and putting the ball in play.”
Syracuse’s 49 points scored were the most in the 59-game history of the series, exceeding the 45 produced by Syracuse in 1960. Ironically, that Orange team was led by tonight’s honoree Ernie Davis.
It was also the most points a WVU team has ever allowed in Big East play.
Syracuse has now won two straight over West Virginia after dropping eight in a row from 2002-09.
West Virginia falls to 5-2, 1-1 with the loss.
Syracuse plays at Louisville next Saturday. The Cardinals knocked off Rutgers 16-14 earlier tonight. West Virginia returns to the road next Saturday to face Rutgers (a 19-16 overtime winner over Syracuse) in a game that will be televised on ABC and will kick off at 3:30 p.m.
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