Last season, an opportune and limiting Syracuse defense held West Virginia to just a pair of touchdowns in a 19-14 upset. Even then, Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith had one last shot in a last-minute drive to salvage the day with a win – but he took a pair of sacks including one on fourth down.
Fast forward to this season, and it's a different story. Smith is arguably playing better than any individual offensive player in the Big East, and vengeance instead of divine right is on the minds of the No. 11 Mountaineers looking to stay perfect in conference play. Not to mention a shot to creep into the Nation's top 10 with a win.
"I think I'd be naïve not to think that we might have gone into Morgantown and maybe caught them a little bit (last year)," coach Doug Marrone said in his weekly session with the media on Monday. "I don't think that's going to be the case this year…they'll be ready to play."
The coach went on to say what type of respect he had for the entire program and battle for the Ben Schwartzwalder trophy, but he continued to revert back to the play of Smith.
"If you said, what's the biggest difference between the teams, (I'd say) the quarterback play of Geno Smith has gotten much, much better," Marrone said. "He's much better than he was a year ago."
The entire West Virginia team has played better as well, losing only to No. 1 LSU. The Mountaineer offense ranks 11th out of 122 teams and the defense sits at No. 16. Even though the team is led by first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, the scheme and element of team speed remains relatively the same for the conference favorites.
As if the aforementioned circumstances aren't enough for an inconsistent Syracuse team to deal with, the game will be in front of a national audience (ESPN, 8:00 PM), something Marrone compared to an American Sports staple.
"It's the equivalent of Monday Night Football," he said. "Because on Friday night most of the other teams (in the country) are in the hotel, they might be done with their meetings; they're probably putting the game on and watching it. So it's probably the most watched game among peers."
With Prince-Tyson Gulley out for the season (collarbone), several young running backs have had the chance to backup Antwon Bailey. In the team's last game (October 8 at Tulane), freshman Adonis Ameen-Moore got his first career chances. He figures to continue to work as the No. 2 back, though he was banged up in Sunday's practice. Marrone said he will likely sit out of Monday's session, though he is expected to play Friday.