Solid Start

West Virginia used a spectacular defensive effort to beat Syracuse 15-7 for a series-record fourth straight win.

It wasn't immaculate, pretty or fancy. But the workmanlike victory showcased WVU's defensive resiliency and offensive nerve as it beat the Orange (0-1, 0-1 Big East) for the second consecutive time in the Carrier Dome -- also a series first.

West Virginia turned the ball over five times, but managed 342 yards of total offense to SU's 114. The Mountaineer defense scored eight points -- two on Ernest Hunter's fourth-quarter safety and six on Eric Wicks' 32-yard interception return that tied the score 7-7. Freshman kick Pat McAfee sandwiched two field goals (33 and 26 yards) around Hunter's safety for the final margin.

The former came after a 55-yard, 10-play drive, the first one sustained by either team that resulted in points.

Syracuse's longest first half drive was a 22-yarder for its score after a solid punt return. The Orange -- changing from a option-oriented style to new head coach Greg Robinson's West Coast attack -- were befuddled by WVU's 3-3-5 stack defense.

"We're real proud of them," WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "It was unnerving getting ready for them because of the situation. We tried to give them a few wrinkles, and our kids did a great job of adjusting to what Syracuse did."

Called a gimmick by some Syracuse coaches and players, the stack proved too versatile and again stunned quarterback Perry Patterson, who was sacked three times and threw two interceptions. Wicks set an early tone by drilling Patterson on a weak side blitz during a naked bootleg play on one series, then returning his second career interception for a touchdown on another.

"I read an out on the tight end and broke on it," Wicks said. "It was like the one at Virginia Tech, but better because we won. That's just good defense."

The play killed building momentum for Syracuse, which had a 7-0 lead despite being badly outplayed and not getting a first down in the first quarter. Blame new schemes or coaches -- whatever the case, West Virginia dominated SU in every facet save turnovers.

Patterson finished 15 of 32 for 83 yards. SU tailback Damien Rhodes was the leading pass-catcher with seven receptions for 20 total yards. He ran 16 times for 4 yards, an average of 2.8 yards per carry.

WVU tailback Jason Colson (Rochester, NY) fumbled three times in his homecoming, twice when trying to grind out extra yardage. If not for the turnovers, WVU likely would have won by 20-plus points.

Credit the defense, which swarmed to the football and showed its best tackling in years. The Mountaineers fought off blocks to reach ball carriers, then wrapped and dragged players to the turf. The discipline and unselfish, intelligent play were much improved from last season.

"We wanted to make sure that we could make big plays to turn the field around," Casteel said. "We didn't do that last year."

The Mountaineers also provided an early answer to a myriad of questions. Quarterback Adam Bednarik vanquished doubts about his mobility, running for a game-high 72 yards. The sophomore completed 14 of 21 passes (66.6 percent) in a display of patient play calling designed especially for the young quarterbacks.

Pat White went 3 three of six for 61 yards and a game-long 39-yard pass to Brandon Miles.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez intentionally stayed out of third and long situations and gave Bednarik and White a chance to move the offense. Both effectively did, and Bednarik even influenced field position with three solid quick kicks that further pinned an already overwhelmed SU offense.

Colson ran 11 times for 30 yards. Pernell Williams carried eight times for 24 yards. WVU plays host to Wofford Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. Tickets are moving fast, but still available.

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