IT NEEDS POINTING OUT
Those that continue to complain about the pass rush need to check the tapes, the stats or the national leaders. West Virginia has 17 sacks through five games this year, putting them number one in the Big East and number 16 in the nation. Defensive lineman Johnny Dingle leads the team with five sacks, followed by Marc Magro and Mortty Ivy with four each.
The number 44 holds significance for West Virginia's basketball program, as it was sported by the legend Jerry West during his time at WVU. However, the number might mean even more to the Syracuse football program. It adorned the jerseys of three all-time greats: Jim Brown, Floyd Little and Ernie Davis. It's so special to the Cuse, in fact, that it has been incorporated into many aspects of the school and city.
A few years ago, the university zip code was changed from 13210 to 13244. In 1988, when the university changed phone systems, the exchange was changed from 423 to 443. One of the student hangouts in the Marshall Street area was named simply "44s". Number 44 not only has come to represent football greatness, it has become a part of the university's and the community's identity.
Now, if the Orange could only find some players to actually play at that level on the field.
RACE TO 200
As an aside, I'm not predicting that mark to fall this week. Although the matchup of WVU's rushing game versus Syracuse's run defense looks favorable, how often have you seen apparent mismatches of this sort not turn out as expected?
GET THE BALL
WVU is a barely-head-above-water +2 in turnover margin after five games, and if there's one stat that almost always indicates a team's success, it's that number. It's a testament to WVU's explosive offense and improving defense that the Mountaineers are 4-1 at this point, but it's also easy to show that West Virginia's first half struggles can be attributed to some sloppy handling of the ball. WVU used to be very secure in its ballhandling, but this year getting the ball locked away has been a problem, as have routine matters such as snapping and executing crisp, safe handoffs.
The Mountaineers can rush nine players, install the wishbone or throw forty bombs (all suggestions from the fan base in recent weeks), but until it improves on this number, it's probably not going to blow out many opponents or earn convincing wins against strong opponents.
There's an outside chance that Syracuse's Max Suter could become the Orange's single-season kickoff return yardage leader against WVU. Suter, with 586 yards, trails season champ Qadry Ismail (738) by just 152 markers. Of course, the number of kickoffs Syracuse receives certainly contributes to Suter's total, but he has taken advantage of those chances, averaging almost 28 yard per return. If West Virginia scores four or five times, and Suter maintains his average, he could break the record with half the season remaining.
The Syracuse passing attack ranks fourth in the Big East at 232.0 yards per game. Given the Orange's scoreboard deficits this year, that's no so surprising. What does grab your attention is the fact that Syracuse is on pace to break the school record for team passing yards, which currently stands at 2,710. Even with 11 game seasons, it's surprising that the long list of outstanding Syracuse QBs in the 1980s and 1990s didn't put up more yardage than that. Most of those players, such as Don McPherson, Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb were run/pass guys, and did as much damage on the ground as they did in the air.
That stat is an object lesson for those who continue to complain about West Virginia's "unbalanced" offensive system. Those of you in that group might want to cheer for Syracuse for a few weeks and enjoy the moment when passing yard number 2,711 goes into the books this year. Along with, say, that 4-8 record.
MEDIA GUIDE MUSINGS
As might be expected, the Syracuse media guide focuses on the town and the history of the Orange football program, although not much on the past few years. The downturn of the program since the ridiculous firing of Paul Pasqualoni has left few items to trumpet in the guide that proclaims "Sudden Impact" on its cover.
Page two and three show the Syracuse football team running onto the field. Many of the students in the stands in the background are staring stonily with hands at their sides. One fan is talking on a cell phone, while others stare aimlessly in all directions. A bit of photo cropping might have been in order for this shot. Two pages later, head coach Greg Robinson, Otto the Orange and a police officer lead the team into the Carrier Dome. The officer is eyeballing Otto as if he might be ready to leap on Robinson at any moment.
We do learn that Syracuse is the geographic center of the state, and that the school is one of the more diverse universities in the nation. But it's not until we get to page 24 that a word is printed about this year's team. Bios and information on the school's athletics administration run a full 16 pages, including an unintentionally hilarious page on the equipment staff entitled, "Top of the Line Uniforms and Equipment". The quality may be good, but the Cuse's football unis are among the Top Five ugliest in the nation.