SYRACUSE, N.Y. - There really is no way to quantify how poorly West Virginia played Friday night in losing 49-23 to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.It was so bad that no area could possibly escape criticism.The defense gave up 443 yards and 49 points. No WVU opponent has scored more in two decades, since Penn State beat the Mountaineers 51-6 in 1991.The offense was held to a full-game season low of 408 yards, turned the ball over twice and, behind atrocious offensive line play, allowed four sacks and constant pressure on Geno Smith.
On special teams there was a 98-yard kickoff return allowed that - just as was the case against No. 1 LSU - completely snuffed out any momentum WVU might have had. There was another kick return to midfield that set up a touchdown, and Tyler Bitancurt missed his first extra point in two years.And there were apparently coaching decisions made during two weeks of preparation that defy logic, given that the Mountaineers appeared completely unprepared for exactly the style of offense and defense that everyone knew Syracuse would utilize.
"They completely dominated us on all sides,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "There won't be any finger pointing. This was a team loss.''It was also a sloppy one. In addition to the otherwise crippling offensive and defensive lapses, there were also penalties. There were only five called against WVU for 37 yards, but two of them in the first half were absolutely critical.First, nose guard Jorge Wright jumped offsides on a third-and-5 play when it appeared Syracuse might be headed for a three-and-out and its second punt on its second possession. It gave SU a free first down and eventually the Orange scored a touchdown.
Later in the half, West Virginia stopped Syracuse on a third-down play and would have forced a field goal try. But Bruce Irvin apparently got his hand or glove stuck in a lineman's jersey and was so animated about getting it out that he was whistled for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. That also led to a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.Strike those two penalties and perhaps Syracuse would not have gained so much early confidence and momentum.But that was the only what-if about this lopsided rout.nn
That West Virginia was dominated on the line of scrimmage is not even open for debate.
Smith spent virtually every down under pressure. His first pass of the game was swatted down at the line by a nose guard, Deon Goggins, and it got worse as the game wore on and Syracuse didn't have to concern itself as much with stopping the run.
On the flip side, Syracuse's offensive line paved the way for 194 rushing yards, and quarterback Ryan Nassib was seldom touched even after releasing the ball."They blitz on almost every snap, and even when they didn't blitz, their pass rush was better than our pass blocking,'' Holgorsen said. "That's what really exposed us. It was exposed by their defensive line and linebackers. They were just beating us up."And if you look on the other side, their offensive line just mauled us. We were exposed up front.''Syracuse coach Doug Marrone was not all that surprised, though. He knew his defensive line would be better with the return of end Chandler Jones and would be able to put more pressure on thanks to the return of safety Olando Fisher. Both had missed the last five games with injuries."When you have them back you can sub in more people and keep them fresher,'' Marrone said. "Everyone up front did a nice job. I think we had 11 of 12 hits on the quarterback, which was important for us."We had to do a good job of keeping the quarterback off balance and we did that for most of the game. We did give up some big plays, but everyone knew what the game plan was. You keep him off balance and keep mixing it up.''
Holgorsen lamented his offense's lack of efficiency. In truth, 408 total yards isn't all that bad, but there was no consistency."It's been the same thing all year. We are not a very efficient football team,'' Holgorsen said. "We make some big plays, but we're not efficient."We knew what they were going to do. We knew that they were going to play a bunch of people and blitz half the time. We have to do a better job of recognizing that.''Indeed, most of West Virginia's points came as a result of big plays. Stedman Bailey made a highlight-reel catch and trotted 63 yards into the end zone and Brad Starks made a leaping catch for a 25-yard touchdown. Only WVU's first scoring drive of the second half was workmanlike, with three third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion.BRIEFLY: Smith's two touchdown passes brought his career total to 43, tying the junior for sixth place on the school list with Chad Johnston and WVU athletic director Oliver Luck. ... Bailey extended his streak of 100-yard receiving games to five with 130 yards on seven catches. ... Starks was used on kickoff returns for the second week in a row and returned three kicks for 78 yards. He was back there initially with Tavon Austin, but later Austin was replaced by Devon Brown.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org