The Orange (1-4, 1-0 Big East) enter the game against No. 12 West Virginia (4-0, 0-1) as one of three unbeaten teams that have played a league game within the Big East. SU has lost its four games by a combined 86 points and has largely failed to be competitive in any of its BCS outings against Washington, Iowa or Illinois. Yet it shocked No. 18 Louisville on the road, exploding for 38 points, more than three touchdowns over its average, and believes it can best WVU if it can limit the Mountaineers' big plays.
The key is to minimize," Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson said. "They are going to make some plays. The key it so minimize big plays. Last year we did not do that. There were five plays then that made a big difference in the game because they were for long gains. We have a better understanding of that. The idea is to go out and do it."
The Orange might have an edge in stopping WVU's signal callers. Starter Patrick White ran for scores of 69, 40, 32 and 12 yards in West Virginia's 41-17 win last season. The junior suffered a thigh bruise in the 21-13 upset loss at South Florida on Friday and is listed as day-to-day. If White cannot play, backup Jarrett Brown, who played the entire second half against the Bulls, will start. Brown completed 11 of 20 passes, including one touchdown, but threw two interceptions in the loss.
"They are different," Robinson said of the quarterbacks. "Pat is darting-fast. Brown is fast, and he has some twitch to him. He is 220 pounds. They are both good throwers. We saw a little of Jarrett in our game. They are both very effective. I think if you look by numbers you would say no (SU would not stop WVU more effectively). But I do think we will be better than last year."
Syracuse allowed 457 yards of rushing offense against West Virginia last season and is giving up a mean of 231.4 yards per game and 5.5 yards per rush in 2007. SU foes have moved the ball well on the ground, and so have largely ignored the passing game. Miami got inside the five-yard line once without a score, however, and was plagued by a trio of interceptions when it did decide to pass. The Redhawks were held to three second-half points, but the initial 14-0 deficit proved too much to overcome for Syracuse's stagnant offense.
"I wasn't pleased with our first half performance," Robinson said. "We did not take advantage of situations and found ourselves down 14-0 at halftime. It did not need to be that way. We had opportunities and did not take advantage. We played better in the second half. I give Miami credit. We are back in the Big East and look forward to playing West Virginia. It's big. Everybody in town is excited about it, and I know our team is, too."
The Mountaineers begin a three-game SU home stretch in which it will also face run-based Rutgers and Buffalo. The Orange still have five home outings, including games against unbeatens Cincinnati and USF, so a win over West Virginia could build much-needed momentum going into the difficult stretch.
"Losing to Miami wasn't a plus," Robinson said. "West Virginia, this is the Big East. I think our guys look forward to playing West Virginia. It's a hard-hitting game and I think we are looking forward to it. I would rather have won. I don't think it's (more motivational) now. I don't think we played that well. We did not play the first half as we wanted to. It would be a real good idea (to have a fast start against WVU)."
Syracuse led 7-0 in 2006, marking the first time WVU was behind that year, and trailed just 17-14 at the half before West Virginia scored 21 unanswered third quarter points. The fifth-straight win over the Orange is a series record against Syracuse, which still leads 30-24 in all-time meetings. The teams have split the last dozen games, and each comes off a loss for the first time in the Rodriguez era. In 2000, West Virginia lost to Notre Dame in the prior week. Syracuse was beaten at home by Virginia Tech. The Orange drove the length of the field to beat WVU in that contest after then-quarterback Scott McBrien threw a late interception. Former Mountaineer head coach Don Nehlen announced his retirement following the game.
Robinson was asked if WVU's loss, dropping it from the top 5 to 12th and likely ending any national championship hopes, would serve as a hindrance to Syracuse. The Orange have lost 22 of 28 games under Robinson, including 13 of 15 league contests. SU has already matched its previous combined number of Big East wins under Robinson with the one over Louisville.
"There are two perspectives," Robinson said. "One is they feel the have their backs against the wall. The other is (they have shown they can be beat). I think we have a chance, absolutely. I worry about us. I hope we have an upset at home. That's what I am looking forward to. I still say this: It's not about them, it's about us. If they had won, they would want to keep the thing going. They lost, so they will want to get going again. We have to just focus and play. It's all about the moment.
"I think there are a lot of teams that are very good football teams. Louisville is very good and we played very, very well. West Virginia, South Florida and Rutgers are good. UConn has done wonders out there. Cincinnati is playing well. We have to play better. It's a wide-open race and it will be very exciting. You never know, because it's going to go back and forth. It will be hard to run the table."