With nothing to lose and respect to gain in front of a national audience, Syracuse came out firing against AP No. 11 West Virginia Friday night at the Carrier Dome. Even when it faced adversity early in the second half, the team responded with perhaps a season-defining effort.
"We are sitting at 5-2, but we still have a long way to go," SU coach Doug Marrone said. "But the story relies with those players."
The Syracuse offense was a force all night long, scoring its most points against West Virginia since 1960.
After a short possession by the Syracuse offense to kick things off, the defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing West Virginia drive. Deon Goggins broke up a pass, and sure tackling prevented the Mountaineers from moving the chains on the next two downs.
Syracuse got the ball back and put together a methodical drive capped by a 3-yard pass from Nassib to Nick Provo, on a play-action pass out of the shotgun. The 14-play drive took nearly half of the first quarter to complete, and four different players received a handoff in the process.
The Mountaineers responded with a scoring drive of their own, aided by a kickoff out of bounds from Ross Krautman. With the short field, Smith converted third downs via crossing routes, but SU buckled-down on third-and-goal to force a Tyler Bitancurt field goal attempt. He made good on the 27-yard try.
Syracuse, still with the momentum, went on another 14-play drive that ended in the end zone. Nassib hit four different targets on the march, and Bailey moved the chains twice. He appeared to have the ball on the goal-line, but Nassib kept it in the read-option before walking in for 6. The latter part of the drive was aided by a Bruce Irvin personal foul, though questionable at best.
After a solid return by Tavon Austin, Smith took some shots. On third-down, he found Stedman Bailey for an over-the-shoulder catch over two defenders. Bailey tight-roped the sidelines and ended up with a 64-yard score, though Bitancurt missed the ensuing extra point.
On the ensuing kickoff, the momentum swung right back into the Orange's favor. Dorian Graham, who was shaken up earlier in the game, showed no ill-effects on a 98-yard kickoff return to put Syracuse up 21-9.
"I saw a hole you could drive a truck through," Graham said after the game. "So (I did) what coach told me to do and went straight up."
Smith and company could not respond during their next chance, and Chandler Jones made his presence felt on back-to-back sacks to force a WVU punt.
After an SU three-and-out, Smith found Willie Milhouse on a busted coverage for 43 yards. A Bailey reception got the ball down to the Syracuse 12-yard-line, but the Orange defense was up for the challenge yet again. On third-and-goal, Jeremi Wilkes stepped in front of Smith's pass for a interception.
With minimal time left in the half, only five plays were run.
‘Cuse Responds to Adversity
West Virginia opened up the second half with an up-tempo scheme, and it took Syracuse by surprise. After several conversions and new life in the running attack behind Dustin Garrison and Shawne Alston, the Mountaineers were in business. Alston, the bigger back of the two, converted on a 4th-and-short before plunging in on the next play from a yard out.
Jeremiah Kobena joined the kick-return party, bringing the ensuing kick out to the SU 49. Nassib then took to the air, poised to answer a score with a score, completing the task in six plays. He hit three different targets on the way, finding pay dirt on a 29-yard strike to David Stevens – who was left alone by a void in WVU's zone coverage. The drive proved to be the turning point in the contest.
"Now we know what we can do,"Nassib said. "So it will help bring us forward. We did a good job this week focusing on the little things."
SU was able to run clock on another long drive after a WVU three-and-out, and the Orange again put 7 on the board instead of 3. Nassib continued to play locked-in football, with precision passes to four different pass-catchers. From the 10-yard line, Provo leaked out and was wide-open after an out-and-up for the easy score.
Austin put the Mountaineers in good position on the ensuing return, but Smith was hit and intercepted on the next play. The Syracuse blitz disturbed him for most of the night, and Thomas earned the easy interception to close-out the third period – giving the Orange a short field in the process.
Syracuse used some trickery with a chance to ice the game early in the fourth quarter, and it paid off. Bailey took a toss from Nassib and threw it sky-high towards Lemon. He somehow hauled it in to set up 1st-and-goal. Two plays later, Nassib hit Provo at the front pylon for a third score, and the dagger.
"Coach says you have to get the play-makers the ball, so when they call my name -- just got to make plays," Provo said.
Smith would engineer a touchdown drive, capped by a 25-yard score to Brad Starks. Syracuse would score on its next drive, as Bailey set up a scoring chance with a 50-yard burst. He plunged in from 3-yards out shortly after.
SU keeps the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy, marking back-to-back wins against WVU for the first time since the 2000-01 seasons.
- Syracuse had not previously defeated an opponent ranked as high as West Virginia was since 2002 against Virginia Tech, in a game that went three overtimes.
-The announced attendance of 45,265 was the largest Carrier Dome crowd since the first game of the Doug Marrone era (2009).
- WVU's Stedman Bailey notched more than 100 yards receiving for the fifth straight game, extending his own school record.
- SU's Antwon Bailey notched over 100 yards for the fourth straight game, and fifth time in 2011.
- Provo's three scores were a career-high, and hold as a tie for second in school history for touchdowns in one game.