Match-Ups: WVU - Syracuse

Check out the key confrontations and conflicting tactics that will clash when West Virginia takes the field against Syracuse. Game Scorecard
Fri 10/21/11 8:00 PM

Syracuse, NY

Carrier Dome
Record: 5-1
BCS: 15
Last Game
UConn W 43-15
Sirius/XM: 93/190
Record: 4-2
Last Game
Tulane W 37-34
Game Notes
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Series: SU 31-27
First Meeting: 1945
Last Meeting: 2010
Game Notes
Season Stats
2011 Schedule


WVU Defense vs. Syracuse Ball Control

Teams that control the ball usually attempt to do so via the run, but the Orange will have to do so with both phases of its offense in order to spring an upset on the Mountaineers. Senior Antwon Bailey has carried the majority of the load for Syracuse on the ground, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and owning 81% of the team's total rushing yards, and he'll certainly get chances to test WVU's run defense, which has given up almost 120 yards per game on the ground. That's not a terrible number by any stretch, but West Virginia has been susceptible to the interior power running game at times, so it would be odd if the home team didn't put the Mountaineers on the spot in that regard.

That's not the only way in which the Orange can control the clock and keep WVU off the field, though. Quarterback Ryan Nassib has improved greatly from the last time the Mountaineers visited the Carrier Dome. He has completed 64% of his passes and tossed 11 TDs against just four interceptions, and has shown much better decision making ability in his play. Targeting a number of receivers with short and medium range passes, Nassib has been solid, if not spectacular, and gives the Cuse a chance for a second straight upset if he can maintain that level of effectiveness.

Look for Nassib to target tight end Nick Provo, who 22 catches this year, and Bailey, who is also adept in the passing game, with short tosses against WVU's 3-3-5 defense. They will attempt to make WVU safeties Darwin Cook and Terence Garvin conscious of those routes, and try to keep them from getting to the line of scrimmage in run support so quickly by keeping their attention on receivers in their areas.

WVU will yield some short completions in favor of not giving up the big play, but the key will be for it to get off the field in third down situations. Foes will be able to connect on some of those short plays and move the chains on occasions, but if the Mountaineers can keep the Orange at bay on third down, that's a trade it is willing to make. Syracuse is running at an even 40% in third down conversions this year, but it it falls short of that mark against West Virginia, it will have trouble winning this game.

WVU Passing Game vs. Syracuse "Okie" Defense

Every Mountaineer opponent pays extra attention to is passing game package in preparation for the game. For Syracuse, that means work on its Okie package, which features an extra defensive back (called, appropriately enough, the 'Nickel).

Geno Smith
Of course, it's not just changing players that will slow down WVU's air game. It's the performance of the players there, and the Orange will have a couple of extra bodies to help in that regard. Defensive end Chandler Jones and strong safety Orlando Fisher are both expected to return to the field after five game absences, and their presence should help in multiple regards. Jones, a second team all-conference selection, is expected to bolster a pass rush that has recorded just ten sacks this year, while Fisher will give his team more options as it inserts extra defensive backs in the Okie set. Fisher was the nickel in Syracuse's first game, but his loss pushed Shamarko Thomas to the position. Thomas then suffered an injury of his own and missed Syracuse's games with Toledo and Rutgers. Those shuffles made a shambles of Orange pass defense personnel, and contributed mightily to the 1,758 passing yards they have yielded so far this year.

The upshot of all of this? Don't let the numbers fool you. True, Syracuse has been poor against the pass this year. Part of that, however, is due to its battered roster, which looks to be in much better shape for West Virginia's visit on Friday night. West Virginia is certainly capable of putting up big numbers in the passing game, no matter the opponent, but assuming that it will do so based on Syracuse's stats to date is not the most solid of conclusions.

Watch Syracuse's defensive personnel on the first few series. Is it playing the Okie package early on, or just in passing situations? (And really, isn't any down a passing situation for WVU?) Does it run players on and off, or does it stick with the same five defensive backs? West Virginia's coaches will be looking for the same items, and will adjust its play calling accordingly.


Both teams have experienced struggles in the punt game, and both have used multiple punters this year. WVU's Mike Molinari was primed to enter the game after Corey Smith had another short punt against Bowling Green, but the Mountaineers never punted again in that contest. He earned the start one week later, and had a solid game against UConn, thus earning the position again for this week's game.

Syracuse has use both Shane Raupers and Jonathan Fisher this year, with Fisher replacing him in the USC game. Fisher is averaging 39.3 yards per kick, but has forced six fair catches and has placed two inside the 20-yard line. That performance will probably keep him on the field this week.

This head to head battle will be easy to track. Which team can "flip the field" with good punts and limited returns? Which punter places the ball better and helps his team minimize returns? The hidden yardage battle in this match-up will, as always, have a telling effect on the game. Doubters need look no further than the WVU-LSU game for supporting evidence.

* * *

Statistics, as we all know, can be confusing things, They can bring enlightenment, but they can also lead us down wrong paths to erroneous conclusions. One such figure that will fall into the former category this week is total plays, and as such is a prime candidate for tracking this week.

So far this year, Syracuse has averaged fewer than 64 plays per game on offense, while its defense has been on the field for more than 75 per outing. WVU has snapped the ball, on average, more than 76 times per game from scrimmage offensively, and has been on the field for just more than 66 plays per game. If those numbers hold true in this game, it's going to be very difficult for the Orange to win.

So, what does Syracuse need to achieve in those areas? Offensively, just a handful more snaps – say, six – would be a big help. That represents a couple of additional first downs after third down conversions, and would mean another three minutes or so of possession. Defensively, however, the Cuse needs a big improvement. It will probably have to keep WVU in the sixties in order to pull out a win.

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