Syracuse stuns No. 11 West Va. 49-23
SYRACUSE, N.Y.—High-powered West Virginia likes to bring a sledgehammer to games, and it was front and center in the pregame warmups as Syracuse lined up to stretch in the Carrier Dome.
It seemed the hardware was on the other side once the game started -- the Orange went out and hammered the 11th-ranked Mountaineers.
Ryan Nassib threw three touchdown passes to tight end Nick Provo, Dorian Graham returned a kickoff 98 yards for a critical score, and Syracuse stunned West Virginia 49-23 on Friday night with a spirited effort on both sides of the ball.
Syracuse (5-2, 1-1 Big East) hadn't scored that many points in the series since a 45-0 win in 1960, and a crowd of 45,265, the largest in three years, roared its approval with thunderous cheers as third-year head coach Doug Marrone enjoyed the most significant win of his brief tenure.
It also was the highest-ranked opponent Syracuse has beaten since a 50-42 triple-overtime win over No. 8 Virginia Tech in 2002.
"We have a long way to go. Let's not confuse the issue," Marrone said. "We kept them off-balance. We made plays at the right time."
Syracuse hadn't beaten West Virginia (5-2, 1-1) in the Carrier Dome in a decade, and the Orange played a near flawless game to break the streak just as they did last year in a 19-14 upset of the Mountaineers in Morgantown. That victory stopped an eight-game losing streak to West Virginia, and this one was even more impressive.
The high-powered West Virginia offense led by Geno Smith was kept in check most of the game, only shining in fits and spurts.
West Virginia entered the game averaging 40.8 points and 503.5 yards offensively and finished with 408.
"They played a great game," said Smith, who was 24 of 41 for 338 yards and two touchdowns. "We didn't respond and play well. It's tough. It hurts. I'm bleeding right now. I just gotta move on, and I've just got to be a leader for this team."
Smith's interceptions came at critical junctures -- the first at the Orange goal line and the second on the final play of the third quarter when the game was still within reach.
He was outplayed by Nassib, who was 24 of 32 for 229 yards and four touchdowns and no turnovers, also hitting David Stevens on a 29-yarder midway through the third quarter that gave Syracuse a 28-16 lead.
Both teams, off last week, had plenty of time to game plan and Syracuse devised a winning formula. The Orange also finished with 194 yards rushing and had zero lost yards on 41 carries, a sign of dominance up front.
"He (defensive coordinator Scott Shafer) took this bye week off to give us a good game plan, and it worked," said Orange defensive end Chandler Jones, who had two sacks and six solo tackles in his first start after missing five games with an injury. "We just did a good job of getting in that quarterback's head."
Smith entered the game ranked fifth nationally in passing yardage at 359.3 yards per game, nearly 26 yards more than the Orange as a team. On this night, a team that was averaging just 333.5 yards per game reeled off 443 against a highly touted defense.
"It's quite simple," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We knew what we were getting ourselves into. Syracuse beat us physically on all three sides of the ball. They outplayed us and outcoached us. It's as simple as that."
Syracuse built a 12-point halftime lead and when West Virginia tried to rally in the second half, Syracuse had an answer and then some.
When Smith guided the Mountaineers 57 yards in 14 plays and Shawne Alston scored on a 1-yard run on the first possession of the third quarter, the Orange struck right back in just six plays.
Nassib thwarted a blitz by hitting Van Chew for 6 yards on a third-and-5 play and then hit a wide-open Stevens along the left side inside the Mountaineers 10 for a 29-yard score.
Provo caught a 10-yard scoring pass with 18 seconds left in the third and a 5-yarder early in the fourth after free safety Phillip Thomas intercepted Smith at the West Virginia 33.
Syracuse entered the game with an important goal -- keep the ball as long as possible -- and the strategy worked as the Orange held possession for nearly 36 minutes, converting an impressive 12 of 17 third downs.
The Mountaineers never found any kind of rhythm, and it showed on the scoreboard. Smith left the field at halftime with 215 yards passing and his team trailing 21-9, a 64-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey one of the few bright spots. Bailey made a brilliant juggling catch, beating double coverage along the left side at the Syracuse 30 and scampering into the end zone.
It moved the Mountaineers within 14-9 and they seemed poised to take control. Then, just like that Syracuse dashed that hope when Graham returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.
"I just saw a hole you could drive a truck through," Graham said. "My coach just told me to take it straight up. It was a great momentum booster."
The Syracuse defense confounded Smith with an assortment of blitzes, batted down two of his passes, sacked him two straight times, and picked off one of his passes in the first half. And when Syracuse needed a break on offense deep in West Virginia territory, the Mountaineers obliged.
After a wide-open Provo dropped a pass in the end zone, putting Syracuse in a third-and-7 hole from the 13, defensive end Bruce Irvin was called for a personal foul when he got tangled with Syracuse offensive tackle Michael Hay and threw him to the ground. That gave the Orange a first down at the 6 and two plays later Nassib scored on a 1-yard keeper for a 14-3 lead with 10:13 left in the half.
Smith hit Willie Milhouse for 43 yards to move the Mountaineers deep into Syracuse territory with time winding down in the opening half, but Jeremi Wilkes intercepted Smith's third-down pass at the goal line and returned it 13 yards.