How Do You Spell Relief?
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
September 4, 2005
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- One team couldn’t hold onto the football and the other couldn’t move it, but in the end it was the team that couldn’t hang onto it that wound up winning Sunday’s Big East Conference season-opening game between Syracuse and West Virginia at the Carrier Dome.
West Virginia (1-0, 1-0) overcame five turnovers, including four fumbles, to down the Orange 15-7 in front of an ABC national television audience.
"It was a great win for us but it wasn't a pretty win," said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. "I can't remember the last time we had five turnovers on offense and still won the game but the guys played hard. We had 32 guys making their first trip and they hung in there."
The Mountaineers, playing two new quarterbacks, were never able to put away a Syracuse team playing its first game for new coach Greg Robinson. West Virginia’s defense actually outscored its offense (9-7) and Syracuse’s only score of the game came as the result of a low-lining Phil Brady punt that was advanced by J.J. Bedle all the way to the West Virginia 18 after a 15-yard personal foul by Owen Schmitt was tacked on to the end of the run.
Syracuse’s Damien Rhodes was able to work the right side of the West Virginia defense for two straight runs that wound up getting the football into the end zone for the Orange – his second run coming from five yards. Ricky Trautman’s PAT gave Syracuse a 7-0 lead.
Two minutes later after giving up the football on a punt, West Virginia’s Eric Wicks stepped in front of a Perry Patterson pass to the nearside of the field and raced 31 yards for a touchdown. It was Wick’s second touchdown INT return for his career.
"That was the play of the game," said Rodriguez. "They had a little momentum and we were still messing around a little bit putting the ball on the ground and that evened things up again and gave our guys a little spark."
The Mountaineers had a chance to take the lead right before the half, but freshman Pat McAfee’s 47-yard field goal missed to the right.
McAfee eventually put WVU in front 10-7 after hitting a 33-yard field goal with 5:53 left in the third quarter, and added a 26-yarder with 3:26 left in the game to put the Mountaineers up by eight. However, a critical score of the contest came with 8:02 remaining in the fourth quarter when Mountaineer defensive tackle Ernest Hunter was able to haul down Patterson in the end zone for a safety to give West Virginia a 12-7 lead.
"This might be the best we've tackled since I've been at West Virginia," Rodriguez noted. "We got their guys on the ground."
Syracuse (0-1, 0-1) had one more crack to try and tie the game with 48 seconds left, but Patterson’s desperation heave to Tim Lane fell harmlessly to the ground well in front of the end zone as the clock expired.
Patterson had all kind of trouble operating Robinson’s new West Coast offense, finishing the day 15 of 32 for just 85 yards with two interceptions.
Rhodes was the leading ground gainer with 44 yards on 16 carries; Syracuse had just 103 total yards. The numbers were really abysmal for the Orange. Syracuse averaged just 1.8 yards per play and was 0 for 11 on third-down conversions. The Orange had just seven first downs and got their first one with 14:11 to go in the second quarter -- the only one Syracuse managed to get in the first half.
"I thought our defense and special teams were outstanding," said Rodriguez.
Like Syracuse West Virginia had its troubles offensively, too, particularly when it reached the Syracuse side of the field. An Adam Bednarik 27-yard run helped move the ball to the Syracuse 14 before Colson had the ball stripped at the Orange 12.
A Pernell Williams option-carry gained 15 yards before defensive end James Wyche knocked the ball out of his hands and Anthony Smith pounced on it at the 41.
Colson’s second fumble came deep in West Virginia territory when Kader Drame pulled the ball out of his hands as he was struggling for additional yardage and Tommy Harris was able to recover it at the WVU 29.
A fourth West Virginia fumble happened at the Syracuse 10 when Tony Jenkins forced Colson to give up the ball for a third time. Smith again was credited with the fumble recovery.
"I think some of it was because of second effort and they were letting us try and grind for extra yardage and they were stripping the ball," said Rodriguez of his team's four fumbles. "I told them we've got to be smart about that."
Bednarik also gave up the ball when he under-threw a wide-open Joe Hunter and Tanard Jackson was able to come down with the football at the Syracuse 10.
Bednarik finished as the game’s top rusher gaining 72 yards on 12 tries. Backup quarterback Pat White added 20 yards on six carries. WVU’s tailback trio of Colson, Williams and true freshman Jason Gwaltney finished the game running for a combined 69 yards on 25 carries. Gwaltney was the back Rodriguez chose to use late in the game.
Bednarik completed 14 of 21 passes for 104 yards and White hit on 3 of 6 passes for 63 yards including a 39-yard completion to Brandon Myles, who finished the game catching five passes for 76 yards. Sophomore Darius Reynaud added six receptions for 39 yards.
Bednarik isn't sure how to gauge his first college start.
“You could think you played well today and go and watch the film the next day and it could be a totally different story. As far as how well I played I’m not sure,” he said.
West Virginia was credited with 339 yards of offense.
"We did do some things offensively and I was proud with the way our young quarterbacks played in their first game," said Rodriguez. "We've got a lot of work still to do but we'll get better."
West Virginia has now won four straight over the Orange for the first time in a long standing series that spans 53 games and 60 years. Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez is 4-1 against Syracuse. The Mountaineers are now 2-2 in Big East Conference-season opening games.
"Our (defensive) staff did a great job of preparing for what they've done in the past and I thought some adjustments we made during the game really helped," said Rodriguez.
"We did a few new things ourselves. I got criticized for closing practices but we had a few new packages defensively and I thought that really helped us," Rodriguez added.
West Virginia faces Wofford next Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium for its 2005 home opener. Plenty of good tickets still remain and can be purchased by calling the Mountaineer Ticket Office toll-free at 1-800-WVU GAME or by logging onto WVUGAME.com.
SYR – Rhodes 5 run (Trautman kick)
Rushing: WV – Bednarik 12-72, Colson 11-26, Williams 8-24, White 5-20, Gwaltney 6-19, Reynaud 1-7, Rivers 1-4, Total 45-172; SYR – Rhodes 16-46, Jones 3-14, Bedle 1-minus 6, Team 1-minus 3, Patterson 5-minus 33, Total 26-18.
Passing: WV – Bednarik 14-21-1-104-0, White 3-6-0-63-0, Total 17-27-1-167-0; SYR – Patterson 15-31-2-85-0.
Receiving: WV – Myles 5-76, Reynaud 6-39, Schmitt 2-24, Colson 1-20, Williams 1-8, Gwaltney 1-4, Thompson 1-minus 4, Total 17-167; SYR – Rhodes 7-21, Moss 2-18, Lane 2-16, Bedle 1-14, Kowalewski 1-10, Evans 1-4, Jones 1-2, Total 15-85.
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