Match-ups: WVU - Syracuse

A pair of clearly defined encounters will go a long way in determining the outcome of the Pinstripe Bowl between WVU and Syracuse. Game Scorecard
Sat 12/29/12 3:15 PM

Bronx, NY

Yankee Stadium
Record: 7-5
Last Game
Kansas 59-10 W
Radio: MSN
Record: 7-5
Last Game
Temple 38-20 W
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

Series: SU 32-27
First Meeting: 1945
Last Meeting: 2011
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule


Syracuse Defensive Back Shamarko Thomas vs. WVU slot receivers

The Orange senior strong safety will have a lot on his hands as he faces West Virginia's array of routes from its inside receivers. The team's leading tackler, he's the linchpin of the SU pass defense, and WVU will have to account for him any time it tries to throw the ball in the middle of the field.

Ordinarily, West Virginia's inside receivers create bad match-ups for safeties, who often don't have the speed to contend with Tavon Austin (or Stedman Bailey, when he moves inside). Thomas, however, is a savvy defender who won't easily be fooled by WVU's system, and who also has the speed to at least keep contact with fast receivers on their initial routes. He disguises coverages well, and will jump routes and play aggressively if he gets a bead on a throw.

Thomas is also an excellent open field tackler, and it's this play phase to watch in the game. WVU lives on yards after the catch, so if he's able to keep close and bring down receivers right after the catch, he'll take away one of West Virginia's offensive foundations. He's also good in run support, and that will come into play if the Mountaineers try to get Shawne Alston warmed up between the tackles. If WVU can get Thomas to overcommit against the run, it could hit a pass or two in his vacated area for big gains. However, that's a tall task against an experienced player who has seen West Virginia's offense before.

Keep track of the number of times WVU is able to get receivers open in the middle of the field, or in Thomas' zone. Are Austin and Bailey the only players that have any success there? If WVU can get another receiver working that area successfully, it might be able to overwhelm SU's pass coverage. However, if Thomas is able to target either of those players exclusively, the Orange could put a crimp in West Virginia's attack.

Syracuse Nose Tackle Jay Bromley vs. WVU Center Jeff Braun

Joe Madsen's absence will put Jeff Braun in the spotlight over the ball -- and present him with two distinct challenges against the Orange front line.

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First, Braun will have to handle the snapping duties and line calls -- things that fell to Madsen throughout the season. Neither is foreign to the senior, who has practiced at the spot throughout his career, which has covered participation in 49 games and 38 starts. He's the most-moved offensive lineman in recent history, having started 13 games at right tackle, another 13 at left guard and 12 at right guard. He'll add another spot to that list with this contest.

That experience will serve Braun well, but it's a different matter to execute the center's tasks in practice as opposed to games. He certainly has the capability to do it, but there will also be a bit of an acclimation period during the game, and it's during that time that mistakes are most likely to occur.

Across the line, watch for Bromley to try to be very aggressive with Braun early on. Lining up directly over the ball, he'll try to get into Braun and get him thinking about the coming hit rather than executing the snap first. While he's not likely to intimidate the rugged Mountaineers senior, he'll do his best to disrupt Braun's concentration on everything he has to do -- adjusting protections, making line calls and getting the ball back to Geno Smith -- not to mention executing his own blocking assignment after the play begins.

Syracuse defensive coordinator Scott Shafer said the the Orange won't do anything specific to try to take advantage of the WVU personnel change, but it's hard to imagine that there won't be more stunts and blitzes to try to confuse the shuffled interior of the Mountaineer offensive front. Keep an eye on Braun and Pat Eger early in plays, and watch how they handle the Orange's twisting defensive front. That's going to be very important if WVU is to move the ball consistently.


Syracuse's offense is much more balanced than it has been in last meetings with WVU. It's been so good, in fact, that this year's team and last year's WVU squad were the only two Big East teams to accumulate more than 500 yards of total offense in six different games in the last decade. The Mountaineers have been good at stopping the run, and will again focus on that as their initial goal in this contest. If that's achieved, WVU can then try to get pressure on quarterback Ryan Nassib, who has shown a tendency, like most quarterbacks, to falter a bit under pressure.

That's where WVU's defensive tweaks might show up. Getting to the quarterback has been a hit or miss proposition for the Mountaineers this year. While they have recorded 21 sacks, they've also been unable to get consistent pressure, or execute blitzes to get the occasional free run at opposing passers. Keep an eye on WVU's defensive fronts and personnel, especially in passing situations. Are there any changes? More tendencies to a different front? It's here where new coordinator Keith Patterson could have his biggest impact.

* * *

A long-held adage in determining bowl winners often comes down to this: Which team wants to be there more?

In this game, the commonly held opinion is that WVU has to be a bit more blase, given its high expectations coming into the season and its Orange Bowl participation last year. Syracuse? It's been here before, and had hoped to play a game nearer to its new digs in the ACC. It can be tough to get a read on these things without being around the team on a constant basis, but West Virginia has seemed up for the game during the days leading up to the contest. The Cuse has been buttoned down, but not necessarily uptight, and that makes for a more difficult estimation.

However it plays out, the feeling so far is that West Virginia is interested in being here and in playing. Practice has been described as spirited, and the lingering bad taste of two consecutive losses to the Orange also seems to have the players' attention.

* * *

The weather, or course, will also figure in the game. Syracuse was a better home team than a road one, as it went 4-1 in the Carrier Dome and 3-4 outside it. West Virginia, on the other hand, has played respectably in bad weather over the past couple of seasons, rallying to knock off Rutgers in a snowstorm and beating Iowa State in the cold on the road this year. The Mountaineers have struggled to throw the ball in windy conditions, though, as swirling currents affected their passing game in losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

The good news is that while there is cold and snow predicted for kickoff, the wind might not be as big of a factor as it has in other West Virginia contests this year. Calls are for as much as two inches of accumulation, but the wind is predicted to be at 5-10 miles per hour. Still, with a sodded infield and a surface that is unfamiliar to both teams, the environmentals could be one of the deciding factors in this game.

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