This Saturday the Syracuse University Orangemen are traveling to Morgantown to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers. Coming off an extremely disappointing loss at home to Pittsburgh on Homecoming Weekend (45-14), the Syracuse Orangemen are facing their toughest opponent of the season. Head Coach Doug Marrone calls Milan Puskar Stadium (Mountaineer Field) one of the toughest venues in all of college football, and in his opinion WVU is one of the Top-10 football teams in the country.
Syracuse has not beaten West Virginia since 2001, when the Orangemen won 24-13 in the Carrier Dome. The last time Syracuse won in Morgantown was in 2000 when the Orangemen defeated the Mountaineers 31-27. Following that game long time WVU coach Don Nehlen announced his retirement. As always, The Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy will be on the line. WVU has won the trophy 8 straight games.
The Mountaineers (5-1, 1-0 Big East) are ranked 20th overall in the AP Top 25 and 19th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. WVU is coming off a 20-6 win over the South Florida Bulls and have a defense that is ranked 3rd nationally in Points Allowed. For a Syracuse offense that struggled to set up a running game against the Panthers defense last week, the Orangemen are going to have their work cut out for them. West Virginia's lone loss came at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge when LSU beat them 20-14. LSU is now the #6 team in the country.
WVU's rushing defense has allowed 83.2 yards per game, which is 4th best in the nation. Their 248.5 total yards per game allowed is 5th best in the country. Doug Marrone is going to have to out coach, out wit, and out scheme WVU head coach Bill Stewart if Syracuse has any dreams of walking out of that stadium with a win. If the Orangemen had any trick plays up their sleeves that they have been saving, this is the game we will want to execute them!
On the other side of the ball for the Mountaineers, they are equally as dangerous as they are scary. Sophomore quarterback Geno Smith is coming into the game with 1,358 passing yards 14 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions with 121 completions in 177 passing attempts. Syracuse can not just load up the box and dare Smith to beat the defense through the air, because he will have no trouble finding receivers.
So far this season, Geno Smith has found seven different receivers for a touchdown. Tavon Austin has 32 receptions for 413 yards and 2 scores. Jock Sanders (is that his real name?) has 36 catches for 317 yards and 2 TDs. Stedman Bailey has 13 catches for 195 yards and 3 TDs. Brad Starks has 6 catches for 145 yards and 4 TDs. Their passing offense is EXTREMELY balanced as you can tell, and Syracuse's defensive backs and safeties are really going to have to be in top form if Syracuse wants to keep this game close.
Out of the backfield WVU has more weapons, most notably Noel Devine. Devine has 103 carries on the year for 504 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. Add that to his 17 catches for 126 yards and another TD catch, that gives him 5 total TDs on the year. In each of the first 3 games Devine rushed for over 100 yards, however he hasn't hit 100 yards in a game since. So we have that going for us. Another option at running back for WVU is Ryan Clark who has 43 rushes for 151 yards and a score. Devine is their go-to-runner and can beat Syracuse single handedly if Syracuse does manage to shut down Geno Smith's passing attack.
As for Syracuse, Ryan Nassib needs a MUCH better performance after last week's debacle against Pittsburgh. Nassib threw two interceptions, one of which was returned 80 yards for a touchdown. Overall, if Syracuse has any chance at all of being in this game they cannot turn the ball over. Not even once. Syracuse's execution has to be perfect. Marrone cannot be afraid to air out the ball and if Syracuse's rushing attack is getting stuffed at the line, the Orangemen can not afford to waste drives going 3 and out running up the gut twice.
On special teams, Syracuse simply can not afford any big returns. Giving WVU a short field is a death sentence and giving up points on special teams will surely spell doom for the Orangemen.
Defensively the Orangemen must play out of their minds. They need to be lights out. They have to get to Geno Smith, knock him down early and often. The linebackers need to identify the rush or the pass and get in position to make a play. If they sit back and wait for the game to come to them they are going to be embarrassed. The entire defense needs to anticipate the play and be extremely aggressive. That is the only way Syracuse can stay in this game.
If this preview of the Mountaineers hasn't scared Syracuse fans away from this game, than tune into ESPN2 at 12:00PM for the kickoff. It will be the Orangemen's first nationally televised game of the year. Syracuse is 4-2 overall, 1-1 Big East.
photo courtesy of syracuse.com