Scaling a mountain

You don't need to tell Syracuse defensive linemen Louis Gachelin what Saturday's game against West Virginia means for the Orangemen.

"This game is going to define our season," Gachelin said. "This game is extremely important."

Syracuse (5-4, 2-3 Big East) hosts West Virginia (6-4, 4-1) this weekend in what could make or break the Orangemen's bowl hopes. The Mountaineers are the hottest team in the Big East, winners of five straight, and are in line to be Big East champions should Miami lose another conference game and West Virginia win out the rest of its.

"It's our next opponent," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "This is the most important game we play this season."

For the Orangemen to be successful, they will need to stop Mountaineer star back Quincy Wilson, who has been on a tear as of late. Wilson rushed 34 times for 208 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh.

"He's very powerful," Pasqualoni said. "He's just explosive and has the power to run through arm tackles."

He's been one of the biggest reasons they've won five in a row since a 22-20 heartbreaker against Miami at the Orange Bowl.

"If they beat Miami," Pasqualoni said, "they're the team to beat right now."

Another key for the Orangemen will be to stop quarterback Rasheed Marshall, who threw for 216 yards on 14-for-23 passing against the Panthers.

But Marshall's biggest stat of the night may have been the eight rushes he recorded for 43 yards. Marshall's ability to run the ball will give the Orangemen similar headaches to the ones they suffered against Miami's Derrick Cruddup.

"You don't know whether the quarterback is going to take it or give it to the running back," Gachelin said. "The more Marshall (throws) the ball, the better off we are. If we can do that, we'll be OK."

Gachelin's comments were a vote of confidence for the secondary, which has improved leaps and bounds since allowing 340 passing yards against North Carolina, Sept. 6. Against Miami, SU's secondary held Cruddup and Brock Berlin to just 80 yards on 5-of-13 completions.

The improvement of the secondary has directly had an effect on Syracuse's ability to rush the passer. After being shut out of the sack category in its first three games, the Orangemen front line has recorded 16 sacks for a loss of 93 yards since.

"The credit goes to the secondary," Gachelin said. "Getting the quarterback to hold the ball one or two seconds longer gives us the time we need."

But the secondary will have their hands full against a West Virginia attack that employs a no-huddle offense. The Orangemen were lost against the no-huddle last year, allowing 384 yards in a 34-7 loss in Morgantown, W.Va.

"The biggest concern is the no-huddle offense," Pasqualoni said. "Their kids do a great job executing that offense."

The Orangemen faced a similar type of hurry-up offense Sept. 27 against Toledo and passed the test, limiting Toledo to just seven points.

"Half the battle is getting lined up," Gachelin said. "I enjoy getting into a huddle to regroup, but whether I like or it or not, I just have to deal with it."

But for Gachelin, the objective is clear: Win and qualify for a bowl game against one of the hottest teams in the NCAA.

"We're 5-4 and we have a great chance at finishing 8-4," Gachelin said. "West Virginia is a quality team. Beating them would be just as big as beating Miami because they're just as talented."

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