Owen Schmitt's two touchdown performance and Johnny Dingle's alertness to screen passes and solid push up front garners our Player of the Game honors in No. 12 West Virginia's 55-14 romp at Syracuse.
Schmitt, who scored his first touchdowns of the season, finished with just 39 yards on eight rushes. But his two scores helped WVU built an early lead in the 55-point rampage, the most ever allowed by Syracuse at home in its 117-plus year history and the most scored by WVU since it beat Rutgers 80-7 in 2001. Schmitt added one catch for 31 yards, punted off a quick kick inside the 15-yard line and was again his bruising self when blocking, setting up several quarterback runs by Patrick White, who left the game with chest pains. His status is currently unknown, though West Virginia (5-1, 1-1 Big East) does have an open week before hosting Mississippi State at home.
"I thought Owen played really well," said WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez, who earned his 100th career victory overall, including a 6-1 mark versus Syracuse. "He has tailback skills. That option play was the same play (it runs with Steve Slaton), it's just to the other side. We got off to a good start, and I could feel that confidence coming back. The locker room at halftime was really loud, louder than other games. I could sense that we were back."
The Mountaineers were up 31-7 at that point, thanks in part to a one pass deflection by Dingle, who finished with two tackles, both solo, including one for loss. He added another deflection in the second half and finished with two forced fumbles, a showcase of his solid play that seems to be blossoming more each week. Syracuse was stripped a season-high six times during the game, but lost just one to go with two interceptions. The first, by free safety Ryan Mundy, setup the offense to give West Virginia a 7-0 lead. The second, by nose tackle Keilen Dykes, was part of our Key Moment and helps the senior earn a game ball.
Keilein Dykes. The All-Big East selection returned an interception 19 yards to give West Virginia a two-score edge when Syracuse was beginning to show life. The Orange (1-5, 1-1) had scored, then stopped West Virginia on consecutive possessions. It had the ball and was trying to piece together another drive when quarterback Andrew Robinson dropped to attempt another screen pass. He was hit and threw off his back foot. The receiver was nailed by middle linebacker Reed Williams, and the ball deflected into the arms of Dykes. The four-year starter, who had never before scored a touchdown, ran it in from 19 yards out for the 21-7 lead that effectively ended any SU upset thoughts. He failed to record a tackle, but that play alone, plus his stoutness along the line after getting shoved off it in the first two Orange possessions, helped the big body earn a game ball.
Pat McAfee. The place kicker executed all his kickoffs perfectly. It was the breakdowns in the WVU coverage units that led to the major runbacks, the longest of which went for 64 yards and likely would have resulted in a score if McAfee had not been able to cut off Mike Holmes and make a solid tackle. McAfee also made field goals of 49 and 23 yards, the former of which would have been good from 60-plus. In calling it one of his better performances, McAfee noted that the humidity inside the Carrier Dome affected the height and distance of several of his kickoffs, many of which he thought he hit to the goal line, only to watch them fall at the 10-yard line. McAfee also added a 63-yard punt that pinned SU prior to the pick by Dykes.
"I thought I kicked well this game," McAfee said. "I have had some where I kicked well and others that were no so good. I thought this was one of the better ones overall. I am glad I was able to tackle that return guy, but it's a bit of as black eye on our coverage team when I have to do that. He juked about three times. I thought he was going to juke by me. But I made the play. I'm just hoping Owen doesn't take my punting spot (with his execution on the quick kick)."
Bobby Hathaway. The backup linebacker played roughly 15 snaps, but seemed to make tackles on about every one. He finished with five, all solo, to rank third on the team and covered every aspect of the SU offense well. The addition of another body to the crops is always desired, and Hathaway has shown he can make plays in every game situation after starting last season. Hathaway's five tackles were just two less than Marc Magro's team-leading seven. Williams added six and Johnny Holmes had four as the linebackers swept the top four spots – which is exactly how the odd stack defense is designed.