This coming Saturday in Western New York, the Mountaineer pass defense will likely be challenged early and often by Syracuse quarterback Andrew Robinson and the Orange's vertical passing attack. More so than perhaps any other team in the conference, the Syracuse offense thrives off of the deep ball.
In a recent upset of Louisville, the Orange scored touchdowns on passing plays of 79, 42, 60, and 17 yards respectively. Despite an unimpressive 1-4 record overall, the dome dwellers certainly have West Virginia's full attention after watching film of the Louisville game.
"I saw in the Louisville game that they went downfield at least four or five times," said senior boundary cornerback Antonio Lewis. "They're going for the big plays."
The recipe for the Orange's downfield special is pretty simple: combine the big arm and wise decision making of sophomore quarterback Andrew Robinson with the speed and route running of standout receivers Mike Williams and Taj Smith. Let simmer for three and a half hours, but don't get burned.
"They seem like they run good routes, and the quarterback makes good reads," Lewis said. "They just finish their plays, you know. Their wideouts, they seem like they've got good speed. (Williams and Smith) seem like some players. We're just going to have to practice hard this week, go out there and see what happens."
The key for Syracuse, just like any team that plays powerful West Virginia, is staying in the game early. To do so, the Orange may have to establish some semblance of a running game that has been virtually non-existant through the season's first five games.
"I think they're just playing to their strength," said Lewis. "They can throw the ball well, so they're just throwing it a lot right now. (Syracuse running back Curtis Brinkley) is a good, hard runner. We played against him last year."
"I think that anytime you want to open it up downfield, then you have to establish the running game," noted junior Mike linebacker Reed Williams. "They're going to do what every team tries to do; they'll come in with double-tight packages and try to run on us. We have to be prepared for that."
But while guarding against the ground attack, Mountaineer defenders must be careful to not get sucked in by the play-action pass. Just ask Louisville, which gave up a blistering 423 yards to an offense that still ranks 113 out of 119 Division I-A teams in total offense.
"You just be disciplined in your pass coverage," explained senior safety Ryan Mundy. "If you watch the film, Louisville had some undisciplined players who weren't reading their keys and so they got beat."
Of course the last time West Virginia visited the Carrier Dome, the only touchdown of the game for the Blue and Gold came on an interception return by Eric Wicks. Another big play such as that combined with an angry Mountaineer offense out for blood would likely be too much for the Orange to handle, even at home.
"I think it could be very big for our team and our defense to get a turnover for a touchdown," Wicks said. "We haven't had one yet this year."
And just in case anybody is wondering about a hangover from last Friday's loss at South Florida, Lewis says that that game is over and done with.
"You can't let the same team beat you twice. That's behind everybody," he said. "We're working hard, and getting ready for Syracuse.
"We just have to worry about ourselves right now, he continued. "The defense needs to keep playing hard, and get better every week. We're just going to go see what happens."
Mountaineer fans are hoping that "what happens" turns out to be West Virginia's third consecutive win in the Carrier Dome. Prior to the current two-game winning streak in college football's most unique venue, West Virginia had lost five consecutive contests to the Orange on the road.
In 2005, the Mountaineers were able to overcome a plethora of turnovers en route to a season-opening win to spoil the debut of then rookie SU coach Greg Robinson. Many of the current team members played in that game, which should take away any nerves or unfamiliarities with playing under the dome.
"It was just loud," Lewis said. "That's the one thing that stands out, how loud it was. The fans are right on you, so that's a little different."
What Lewis and his teammates hope will not be different is the end result: victory.