Preview: Syracuse

West Virginia tries to extend a school-record winning streak against Syracuse in the battle for the Schwartzwalder Trophy.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 10/23/10 12:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 5-1
BCS: 23
Last Game
USF W 20-6
TV: ESPN2
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 4-2
BCS: NR
Last Game
Pitt L 45-14
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Series: Syracuse 30-27
First Meeting: 1945
Last Meeting: 2009
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast


INJURIES

WVU – Tavon Austin (Shoulder) Probable; Scooter Berry (Knee) Probable; Will Clarke (Ankle) Probable; Darwin Cook (Ankle) Probable; Matt Lindamood (Neck) Probable

Syracuse – G Adam Rosner (Upper body), Questionable; CB Kevyn Scott (Leg), Questionable; LB Ryan Gillum (Upper body), Questionable; WR Aaron Weaver (Knee), Out for Season; DE Jared Kimmel (Knee), Out for Season; TE Cody Catalina (Knee), Out for Season; WR Jarrod West (Foot), Out for Season; CB Ri'Shard Anderson (Undisclosed), Out for Season; NT Ollie Haney (Chest), Out for Season; FB Carl Cutler (Knee), Out for Season.


GAME OUTLOOK

WVU Offense vs. Syracuse defense

This is an intriguing match-up in that both teams' strengths will be head-to-head. West Virginia's rushing game has been held below 150 average yards per game, while its passing attack has shown solid variation, a penchant for deep balls when needed and the ability to throw downfield for third down conversions – though not as consistently in the last game as the coaching staff would have liked. Syracuse, with all four defensive backfield starters returning, has held foes to 178 average passing yards per game and less than 125 rushing. And its 19.8 point-per-game average ranks in the top half of the Big East.

The issue is that the majority of even decent rushing teams SU has faced, like Washington (175 yards) and Colgate (option attack, 230 yards), have had solid success. West Virginia should be able to run the ball decently and get one-on-one matchups in the passing game. The question is if it can convert against a good Syracuse secondary.

Led by senior corner Mike Holmes, the Orange rank in the top 20 nationally in pass efficiency and overall pass defense. Until Pitt ripped it for 45 points, Syracuse had allowed just five touchdown passes all season. But the Panthers found All-Big East wideout Jonathan Baldwin for a big play and mixed in tight ends early and often, and a couple other scoring plays on special teams and defense helped make the spread vastly more one-sided than the game actually was. WVU must be aware of Holmes and fellow corner Da'Mon Merkerson, who has been the most statistically impressive SU defender thus far. Where teams at times avoid Holmes, Merkerson has had a chance to make plays, and has registered two interceptions and five pass break-ups. He has played the short and deep balls well, and allows head coach Doug Marrone to play the corners one-on-one to open other players for blitz schemes and coverage assignments – the biggest key for the Syracuse defense.

West Virginia's offensive line must pick up a range of man and zone blitzes effectively, and allow quarterback Geno Smith time to make reads and find wideouts. SU will bring multiple players from varying angles, and likely run among the most complete blitzing packages of any team in the Big East other than WVU. If those get home, the secondary should be able to do its job and leave the run game to be cleaned up by the front seven.

The anchor there is linebacker Derrell Smith, who leads the team in tackles at 42. He has just three for loss, though, and is mainly utilized to snuff out opposing ballcarriers from his spot in the middle of the 4-3. Strongside ‘backer Marquis Spruill is a freshman still settling in, though much like former WVU cornerback Perlo Bastien's frosh year, any inadequacies have been somewhat covered by the experience and ability around him.

The line starts two seniors and two juniors. Nose tackle Bud Tribbey, 6-1, 290 pounds, will go straight up against Joe Madsen. The West Virginia sophomore must stalemate that to allow the running game some room. Look for West Virginia to be better able to run the ball this game than last, both because Syracuse doesn't have South Florida's speed, and because Noel Devine should be able to cut and use his limited power with more success. That will aid the passing game in a contest in which it could be limited by SU's secondary.

The Mountaineers appear to have more playmakers than Syracuse can effectively corral all game, but some pressure and the same mediocre running game could cause difficulties. Pick up the pressure, give Smith time, run reasonably, and there's little reason West Virginia can't win this match-up.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Syracuse
Scoring Offense 28.2 ppg Scoring Defense 19.8 ppg
Rushing Offense 149 ypg Rushing Defense 124 ypg
Passing Offense 227.3 ypg Passing Defense 178 ypg

Advantage: West Virginia


WVU Defense vs. Syracuse Offense

Syracuse has shown much better balance this season, and because its defense isn't allowing as many big plays, it is getting better field position and situations in which to operate. Senior running back Delone Carter, who was suspended through spring drills, has rushed for more than 500 yards and has five touchdowns after a very good outing against South Florida's speedy front. His ability to churn out yards and give the Orange manageable third downs (SU has converted 40 percent this season) has taken pressure off quarterback Ryan Nassib. The 6-2, 224-pound junior is averaging 200-plus yards passing per game with 10 TDs against a pair of picks.

SU's stats are inflated by a schedule that includes Maine, Colgate and Akron. Against BCS foes Washington, USF and Pitt, Syracuse has averaged less than 16 points per game and been blown out twice. This offense isn't as mistake-prone as it has been in the past, however, and it's likely that West Virginia's defense won't get fumbles and interceptions virtually handed to it as it has in past series meetings.

Syracuse's problem matching WVU is the line play. SU returns just one starter in center Ryan Bartholomew. The 6-2, 298-pound All-Big East pick could wage among the better battles of the season with Mountaineer nose tackle Chris Neild. This will be two NFL-caliber players matching size and strength in a key tussle along the line. Neild needs, again, to anchor the odd stack front and keep from getting pushed into the linebackers so they are free to swarm the ball and limit the Orange rushing game. It reads the same every week, but this time Neild has a foe who can match him in skill and physical play as Bartholomew is a Rimington Award nominee for the best center in the nation. Watch this closely and see who is getting the better of it, as that will trigger much of what the running offense and defense can do.

In the passing game, Nassib has a favorite target in receiver Van Chew. The junior leads the team with 23 catches for 4-2 yards. Chew, 6-1, 170 pounds, doesn't have the size to be a major deep threat, but he can get behind the secondary and must be defended adequately. Nassib will also use senior tight end Jose Cruz down the seams and Carter out of the backfield.

The multiple offense has yet to see significant ball movement against major collegiate-level defenses, but it isn't beating itself as it once was. Nassib is much better at defensive recognition than recent Syracuse quarterbacks, and he'll take sacks instead of forcing passes. But he doesn't see the 3-3-5 much, and West Virginia's ability to bring blitzes from a variety of angles and locations against a line that hasn't played together much could be problematic for the visitors. SU starts a pair of sophomores on the left side, and on third and longs, with Bruce Irvin coming in, Nassib must be aware of pressure. The on-paper match-ups seem to favor the Mountaineers, and as long as Nield and Scooter Berry don't get shoved around – and there's no indication they will – it appears WVU again has the defensive edge in this contest.

SU will move the ball some and play intelligently, and its field goal kicker is good enough to get it some points once the ball reaches the 30-yard line. But scoring touchdowns in the red zone and moving the ball via lengthy, 70-plus yard drives seems a stretch.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Syracuse
Scoring Defense 12.3 ppg Scoring Offense 26 ppg
Rushing Defense 83.2 ypg Rushing Offense 149.3 ypg
Passing Defense 162.7 ypg Passing Offense 210.2 ypg

Advantage: West Virginia


WVU Special Teams vs. Syracuse Special Teams

Syracuse returns one of the premier punters in the game in Ron Long. The senior is averaging 43.3 yards per attempt with a long of 70. The All-Big East selection has six punts of 50-plus yards and has flipped the field for the Orange often this season. Long was a major reason Syracuse pulled off the upset at South Florida, and he'll be expected to have a sound outing against the Mountaineers as well. West Virginia hasn't shown much in the return game this season, and its lack of pressure on opposing punters might allow Long to relax a bit.

On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, freshman Ross Krautman has made six of seven field goal attempts this season, even as the staff has pressed him into multiple kicks of 45-plus yards. Krautman's collegiate long is 47, and though Mountaineer Field isn't as easy a venue in which to kick as the Carrier Dome, SU has two very capable specialists that have proven themselves thus far. The biggest danger in the return game is Mike Holmes. The corner averages 18.7 yards per punt return, with one 62-yarder. Holmes is excellent at moving north-south quickly and not bouncing around to try to locate holes that aren't available. He'll hit the seam, cut, and go, so West Virginia must maintain lane control and tackle well to avoid big plays.

SU's best kickoff returner is Prince-Tyson Gulley, who averages about 24 yards on 12 attempts. This isn't the best Orange special team unit West Virginia has faced, but it's likely the program's best collection of core players since WVU began its series winning streak. The Mountaineers almost match SU in raw net punting numbers and placekicking ability – but the return game coupled with the experience of most of SU's key components give the Orange an edge.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Syracuse
Net Punting 37.4 yards Net Punting 38.2 yards
KO Returns 19.4 yards per return KO Returns 22.5 yards per return
Punt Returns 10.7 yards per return Punt Returns 12.2 yards per return

Advantage: Syracuse


PICKS TO CLICK

On Offense: Don Barclay.

On Defense: Chris Neild.


PREDICTION

West Virginia should be able to better move the football on the ground. If it can give Geno Smith time to read and react, the offense should be fine. Smith hasn't shown a propensity to force throws, and indeed has played beyond his experience level.

Syracuse's secondary is good, and its overall defensive abilities are far upgraded from previous seasons. If WVU can't run the ball, it could struggle to pass downfield enough to loosen the linebackers.

Defensively, the Mountaineers match-up well with the Orange. The key battle is Chris Neild and Ryan Bartholomew. Win the line of scrimmage equates to largely winning the battle on this side of the ball. West Virginia's pressure, experience and back end play should be enough.

The Mountaineers need to tackle well to keep tailback Delone Carter from giving quarterback Ryan Nassib comfortable, convertible third downs. Get ‘em down, get off the field, get the ball back to the Mountaineer offense. That and a sound special teams game should be enough for the win here - but closer than some expect.

WVU – 27 Syracuse – 13


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