Syracuse stuns No. 11 West Virginia
Nassib’s three touchdown passes lead Orange to victory
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Ryan Nassib threw three touchdown passes to tight end Nick Provo, Dorian Graham returned a kickoff 98 yards for another score, and Syracuse stunned No. 11 West Virginia 49-23 on Friday night with a spirited effort on both sides of the ball.
|West Virginia at Syracuse|
Syracuse (5-2, 1-1 Big East) 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.
Syracuse hadn't scored that many points in the series since a 45-0 win in 1960, and a Carrier Dome 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.
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 against the hard-hitting Syracuse defense.
Smith was 24 of 41 for 338 yards and two touchdowns, and his 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.
Stedman Bailey had seven catches for 130 yards and one touchdown and Tavon Austin had six catches for 60 yards for West Virginia.
Nassib 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.
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.
Undaunted, 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.
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.
West Virginia had only two possessions in the opening quarter while the Orange kept the ball for more than 6 minutes on their second possession and drove 84 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Syracuse converted three third downs, tried a flea-flicker that didn't work and an end around that did, and Graham's catch and run for 27 yards gave the Orange a first-and-goal from the 7.
Nassib finished the 14-play drive by hitting Provo in the back of the end zone with a 3-yard scoring pass after a pretty fake at the line to tailback Antwon Bailey.
West Virginia moved within 7-3 on Tyler Bitancurt's 27-yard field goal with 66 seconds left in the first quarter after a blitz by strong safety Shamarko Thomas forced Smith into an incompletion on third-and-goal from the 10.
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 Bailey one of the few bright spots.
Bailey made a brilliant juggling catch, beating double coverage along the left side at the Syracuse 30, but Bitancurt spoiled the celebration a little bit when he missed the extra point, his first botch of the season after hitting 30 in a row.
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.
The Syracuse defense confounded Smith with an assortment of blitzes, batted down two of his passes, sacked him two consecutive 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 up 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.
The win allowed the Orange to keep possession of the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy. Schwartzwalder was born in West Virginia, played center for the Mountaineers, and remains the winningest coach in Syracuse history.