Bits and Bytes - Syracuse

More informational items and opinionated meanderings to cover those last few hours before West Virginia's first home game in a month.






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Series: SU 23-30-0
Sat 10/14 Noon
Morgantown, WV

Milan Puskar Stadium
Record: 5-0
USA/Coaches Rank: 4th
Last Game
Mississippi St W 42-14

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Record: 3-3
USA/Coaches Rank: NR
Last Game
Pitt L 21-11
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First Meeting: 1945
Last Meeting: 2005
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COLOR MISMATCH

While some Mountaineer fans still haven't warmed to West Virginia's newest football uniforms, they should be happy they don't have to look at Syracuse's hideous home unis. The Cuse's road white jerseys conjure visions of mid-1950s Mississippi togs, but they don't have the underexposed look of their home blue jerseys with orange numerals and no outlines.

Not to get too far off the subject of this game, but which unis are the worst in college right now? Oregon's Rollerball- inspired outfits? Cal's glaring yellow jerseys on gold pants? Or the Orange's three shades too dark look?


MISDIRECTION

So many times, what appear to be critical items in a game turn out to be mere afterthoughts, or one-sided affairs. The most recent case in point was West Virginia's rushing offense against Mississippi State's run defense. Each unit had piled up impressive statistics, but the Mountaineers' juggernaut proved to be way too much for the Bulldogs to handle, rolling up another 300+ yard day.

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Game Info
WVU 5-0, 0-0
SU 3-3, 0-1
Sat 10/14 Noon
Milan Puskar Stadium
Series: SU 30-23
TV: ESPN Regional
BCS: WVU-8 SU-60
Harris Poll: WVU-5 SU-NR
Line: WVU -25
This week, the reverse is true. Syracuse, with one of the worst rushing defenses in the nation, is expected to provide little opposition to the WVU ground assault. However, those expecting no contest in this phase of the game might think back to a similar situation just a couple of weeks ago against East Carolina. The Pirates, who had been gashed by several teams for big yards on the ground, held WVU to its lowest output of the season.

As we've noted before, comparisons that are made simply on the basis of stats are often invalid. It's scheme, personnel and execution that more often make the difference.


CHANGING OF THE GUARD

There are some changes slowly taking shape along West Virginia's defensive line. James Ingram has moved into a starting spot alongside Pat Liebig and Keilen Dykes, but Ingram's ascension appeared to motivate Johnny Dingle, who had his finest game of the season coming off the bench. Doug Slavonic's return also served to move Warren Young down a notch in the rotation, while Craig Wilson remains a solid backup to Liebig at the nose. It will be interesting to see how these battles play out over the remainder of the year, but it looks as if Ingram and Slavonic have carved themselves spots in the rotation.


YOU THINK WE'RE FRUSTRATED?

West Virginia's struggles to get off the field on third down (that's the new way of expressing the thought of forcing the other team to punt), have been well-chronicled this year. In fact, it's probably been beaten to death. But while WVU has yielded 29 successful third down conversions to its foes in 68 tries (a 43% opponent success rate), that's not the most eye-popping statistic in that area. West Virginia is turning a stunning 52% of its third-down tries into a new set of downs.

Of course, one of the reasons for that high number is the fact that West Virginia gets an inordinate number of third and shorts due to its running attack. And having Patrick White take off on third and 11 for a first down doesn't hurt either. But it's still an impressive number – one that certainly makes opposing defensive coordinator even more bilious than any Mountaineer fan or coach.


TACKLING TALE

Three of West Virginia's top five tacklers to date are defensive backs – and that doesn't include spur Eric Wicks (27 stops), who is tied for second behind Kevin McLee (28).

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Knotted up with Wicks are safety Quinton Andrews and cornerback Antonio Lewis, while fellow corner Vaughn Rivers is fifth with 21. On the surface, that might look like West Virginia is giving up a lot of rushing yards, as one metric for evaluating a rushing defense is the number of tackles made by the front six versus the secondary. In WVU's case, however, the numbers mean something a bit different.

Teams have run just 149 times against WVU for an average of just 3.0 yards per carry, so its obvious that the Mountaineers aren't getting gashed on the ground. When you subtract sacks and other quarterback scrambles from that total, it becomes clear that teams really aren't trying to run against the Mountaineers at all. They often abandon the run because a) it isn't successful, and b) they are often behind and forced to play catch-up.

The result is that West Virginia's back end defenders are getting more chances at tackles simply because teams are throwing the ball more against them. WVU's five opponents have combined for 180 passes to date, completing 90. That's a lot of tackle chances for Andrews, Lewis, Rivers and Larry Williams.

If those totals worry you, here are a couple of stats to ponder. WVU is being outgained in passing yardage by 58 markers per game, but the Mountaineers are recovering nearly a third of that in kick and punt return yardage alone. WVU's passing efficiency rating is a whopping 65 points better than that of its foes.


ROTATIONAL COEFFICIENT

While West Virginia rotates several defensive linemen during games, Syracuse takes it to the extreme. The Orange have played at least 10 defensive linemen in every game this year and played 12 against Iowa. In addition to the starting front four of Lee Williams, Chris Thorner, Tony Jenkins and Jameel McClain, backups Nick Santiago, Jamar Atkinson, Mike Owen, Brandon Gilbeaux, Arthur Jones and Cornelius Campbell have each played in all six games for the Orange.


DOUBLE DIP

WVU (2006) and Syracuse (1998) are two of only 13 schools to have played in a BCS-level bowl game and advanced to the men's Sweet 16 in the same year. West Virginia gets a leg up over the Orange in this regard, in that the Mountaineers won their bowl game. Only nine other schools have matched that feat. Kentucky (1951) is the only school to top its bowl win with an NCAA championship.


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