Orange Crush

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- West Virginia got back to its winning ways on Saturday with an easy 55-14 road win over Syracuse.

The Mountaineers used a balanced scoring attack that featured touchdowns on the ground, through the air, and even on defense during the lopsided affair inside a half-empty Carrier Dome.

After a Ryan Mundy interception gave West Virginia its first possession of the game, the Mountaineers methodically moved into the red zone with a mixture of horizontal passing and inside running. Fullback Owen Schmitt executed a third-down option play to perfection for his first touchdown of the season.

The biggest problem for the Mountaineers on the day came on special teams, where white-clad kickoff coverage unit allowed a trio of long returns to Orange returner Mike Holmes (three returns, 118 yards). Other than that, West Virginia made few mistakes.

The rest of the special teams were outstanding. Junior punter/kicker Pat McAfee got of a 64-yard bomb on his first punt of the afternoon, which pinned the Orange deep in their own territory. McAfee's punt flipped the field position for good, and put the Mountaineer defense in position to make a big play.

Right on cue, the 'D' responded. Middle linebacker Reed Williams blew up Cuse receiver Taj Smith as he received the ball on a middle screen, and senior nose tackle Keilen Dykes found himself in the right place at the right time. Dykes grabbed the ball out of mid-air, and rumbled 19-yards for West Virginia's first defensive touchdown of the season. The touchdown was the first of Dykes's career, and was the first time since 2000 that a Mountaineer defensive lineman

"I was just in the right spot at the right time," Dykes said. "I had it in my hands and figured that I had to do something with it. It was the longest 20 yards of my life, but I got there."

Dykes' TD seemed to ignite the rest of his teammates as from that point on, the visitors could do no wrong. Next up it was White with a one-yard touchdown run. Then Schmitt again in the second quarter from a yard away. The half capped with McAfee's 49-yard field goal that likely would have been good from another 15 yards away.

The biggest highlight of the day for Syracuse may have come at halftime, when the undefeated 1987 team was honored. Quarterback Don McPherson and company reenacted the winning two-point conversion attempt from the season-ending win over Major Harris and the Mountaineers. Unfortunately for the home team, McPherson and company could to little to help out Greg Robinson's current edition of the Orange.

In the second half, Rich Rodriguez and company continued to pile up the points. White found receiver Darius Reynaud from 20 yards out on the first possession of the second half for his seventh passing touchdown of the season. Late in the third quarter, West Virginia's junior quarterback was shaken up with an apparent rib injury at the end of a 27-yard run. He left the game, giving way to sophomore backup Jarrett Brown after going 12-15 for 148 yards and the touchdown, while adding 89 yards and another score on the ground.

Brown led the Mountaineers to a pair of scoring drives, one of which he capped himself with a four-yard rushing touchdown. The West Palm Beach, Fla. native finished a perfect 5-5 for 85 yards through the air. Freshman receiver/running back Jock Sanders rounded out the scoring for West Virginia with his first career touchdown on an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter.

By the end of the game, the Mountaineers had played four quarterbacks (White, Brown, and seniors Adam Bednarik and Markell Harrison), piled up 486 yards of total offense, and scored more points than it ever has in 54 previous meetings with their rival. The West Virginia 'O' was an impressive 10-15 on third down, and produced seven red zone scores in seven attempts. The 251 yards rushing and 235 yards passing resulted in the most balanced offensive effort of the season for run-heavy West Virginia.

The Mountaineer defense, viewed by most as a question mark leading into the season, recorded its fourth consecutive strong performance, which should erase any questions that remain with the season now half complete. West Virginia defenders harrassed quarterback Andrew Robinson, Brinkley, and the rest of the Cuse offense all afternoon, forcing six fumbles (with one recovery) in addition to the two picks. In all, the Orange managed a meager 202 total yards on the day, most of which came on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Robinson to receiver Mike Williams in the third quarter.

"I'm very disappointed," said third-year Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson, now 0-3 against West Virginia and just 6-23 overall at SU. "I expected to see a better, closer margin. It's frustrating. We've got to dig deep right now."

The 55 points scored by West Virginia were the most Syracuse has ever given up at home in the 118-year history of the program. In addition, it was West Virginia's largest point output in Big East play since an 80-7 throttling of Rutgers back in 2001.

"I'm very pleased with the win," said head coach Rich Rodriguez, who notched his 100th head coaching victory as a result of Saturday's triumph. "The guys had a good week of practice. The offense came out strong, and the big point in the game was where we got the turnover at the opening and then immediately got it in for the score."

The only bad news for West Virginia was the injury to White, who already entered the game nursing a bruised thigh and now must contend with the additional injury. To what extent White is injured is unknown, and how long he'll be out remains to be seen.

Still, with a week off before West Virginia's next game two Saturdays from now against Mississippi State, there should be plenty of time for White and any of his aching teammates to heal up. For now, the Mountaineers will enjoy their sixth win in a row over Syracuse as they returned to their normal, dominant form in a big way on Saturday afternoon.

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