Sat 10/11/08 Noon
Rutgers W 24-17
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Pitt L 34-24
Last Meeting: 2007
WVU - Reed Williams (Shoulder) Out, Josh Jenkins (Knee) Out, Patrick White (Thumb) Probable, Tito Gonzales (Ankle) Probable), Pat Liebig (Head) Doubtful, Zach Hulce (Knee) Out, Jim Lewis (Leg) Out
SU - Delone Carter (Hamstring) Probable
WVU offense vs. SU defense
Last season the Syracuse defense was porous, and that's putting it nicely. As a unit it allowed 35 points and 468 yards per game. Opposing offenses were able to move the ball at will, and thus far this season hasn't been much different. The Syracuse defense is also working with a new coordinator after Steve Russ left for Wake Forest in February. Derrick Jackson now shares those duties with the head coach, but that shakeup hasn't shown many positive results.
A year ago, junior nose tackle Arthur Jones was a complete unknown outside the program. Today, he's the anchor of the Syracuse defensive line. Jones emerged with 51 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and a sack as he earned a spot on the All-Big East Second Team. The 6-4 and 291 pounder has an outstanding work ethic and the technique to navigate through double teams. So far this season Jones has one sack to go along with four tackles for a loss.
Joining Jones on the line is senior Nick Santiago, who is a three-time letter winner. Santiago has good size at 6-3 294 pounds, but won't blow anyone away with his speed or burst off the line. He does however, have a motor that won't quit and is relentless getting to the ball. Santiago has one sack this season and has two tackles for a loss, as well as a forced fumble.
A player to keep an eye on up front is Vincenzo Giruzzi. In order to generate more pressure off the edge, the Orange moved the senior from linebacker to defensive end, and he responded at the end of last year, finishing with 41 tackles and a couple of tackles for loss. Now in his sixth year with the program, the 6-3, 241-pound Giruzzi shows the speed and intensity the defense is looking for from its pass rushers. Senior Jake Flaherty is the undisputed leader of a linebacker corps that is dominated by underclassmen. In his first season of extensive action, he erupted for 95 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and a sack last season. Only 6-1 and 228 pounds, he's got the toughness, instincts, and intelligence of a middle linebacker that excels in run defense. Flaherty currently ranks second on the Orange football team in tackles with 33, which ranks him 13th in the Big East in that category.
On the outside for the Orange is a lot of inexperience but also speed and quickness. At strongside linebacker, Parker Cantey and Darrell Smith will both see playing time. Cantey was a Big East All-Freshman selection last season and debuted with 27 tackles, most of which came in November. A long and lean athlete at 6-3 and 218 pounds, he's a quick learner that flashes the potential to drop back fluidly in coverage or sell out on the blitz. On the weak side is Mike Mele, who is the size of a safety but has the speed and lateral quickness to be a problem for the Mountaineers on the blitz.
There's uncertainty just about everywhere in the Orange secondary, except when it comes to sophomore Mike Holmes. Holmes was an eight-game starter as a rookie and learned quickly, making 64 tackles, breaking up a couple of passes, and earning a spot on the Big East All-Freshman team. At 5-11 and 185 pounds, Holmes flashes the speed and hip turn to be a rare four-year starter.
At the other corner position is Nico Scott who is 5-10 180 pounds and so far hasn't really shown the ability to match up with physical receivers. A.J. Brown has a decent amount of experience, starting five games in 2007 and earning letters in each of the last two seasons. At six feet and 201 pounds, Brown has two passes defended as well as an interception this year. Brown will be joined by fellow senior Bruce Williams, a 6-0, 200-pound free safety with good ball skills, some of which come from his high school experience as a wide receiver.
Syracuse has certainly taken its lumps so far this season on defense. The Orange allowed 55 points to Penn State, and has given up no fewer than 30 points in every game this year. The defense, outside of Arthur Jones, won't wow anybody. Everyone keeps waiting for the offense of West Virginia to explode, and if there were ever a game to do it, it would be this one.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Offense 23.2 ppg, Rushing Offense 2326.6 ypg, Passing Offense 130.4 ypg, Total Offense 357 ypg
SU Scoring Defense 36.4 ppg, Rushing Defense 206.8 ypg, Passing Defense 255.6 ypg, Total Defense 462.4 ypg
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU defense vs. SU offense
Here is the good news for Syracuse. Their running game, which was ranked 118th in the country last season, is vastly improved. Currently the Orange are averaging 157.2 yards per game on the ground, which ranks them 52nd in the country. That gives them some hope of moving the ball, but they are still just 97th in the country in total scoring at 21 points per game. Not a bad improvement in a half-year's time, but this still isn't the most high-powered offense around.
Two quarterbacks have seen time for Syracuse this year. Junior Cameron Dantley has taken the majority of the snaps and handled most of the passing. Dantley has thrown for 549 yards and seven touchdowns against just two interceptions. The other quarterback is Andrew Robinson, who was the starter last year. Robinson threw for 13 touchdowns in 2007, but has yet to throw one this season.
Running back has gone from a position of weakness last season to a position of strength this season. Lead by Curtis Brinkley, who has rushed for 477 yards this season on 84 carries, the Cuse has shown signs of mounting a respectable ground attack. Brinkley, who averages 5.7 yards per carry, is a slash and cut runner with good speed. He makes an interesting matchup for the WVU defense, considering the Mountaineers' recent success stopping the run.
After three years in the program, Lavar Lobdell, a former blue-chip recruit, certainly passes the proverbial eye test. At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he's in terrific shape and looks the part of a classic outside receiver, but he had just 24 receptions last year and a paltry six this year for a total of 85 yards. He has also had some problems catching the ball when it does come his way. Playing opposite Lobdell is Donte Davis, who was a pleasant surprise last year as a true freshman. Davis is the leading receiver on the team with 14 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Three starters return to one of the nation's least effective offensive lines, a unit that was 118th nationally in sacks allowed in 2007. If there's a positive, it's the right side, which welcomes senior starters Ryan Durand at guard and Corey Chavers at tackle. A heady run blocker at 6-5 and 303 pounds, Durand has been productive this year. The 6-5, 295-pound Chavers has started 18 games over the last two seasons, alternating between the left and right side. A good athlete for his size, he still remains an unfinished product
The third returning regular is sophomore center Jim McKenzie, who started the final 10 games of 2007. Exceptional above the neck and at directing the rest of the linemen, the 6-4, 286-pounder will be even more effective with a full season of experience behind him.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Defense 16.4 ppg, Rushing Defense 114.8 ypg, Passing Defense 201 ypg, Total Defense 315.8 ypg
SU Scoring Offense 21 ppg, Rushing Offense 157.2 ypg, Passing Offense 130.4 ypg, Total Offense 287.6 ypg
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU special teams vs. SU special teams
Senior kicker Patrick Shadle is a Lou Groza Award candidate who's been true on 26-of-33 field goal attempts over the last two seasons. While not a boomer with his kicks, he did nail a career-high 50-yarder against South Florida last year. So far this year Shadle is seven for eight on field goal attempts including three from 40- 49 yards out.
Sophomore Rob Long answered the program's need for a new punter, averaging 41.9 yards and earning Second Team All-Big East honors in a smashing rookie debut. On a team that experiences so many three-and-outs, the punter is especially important at Syracuse. Long is averaging 47 yards per punt this year, and he could provide dominant Mountaineer punter Pat McAfee with a good challenge in the battle for field position.
The one-two punch of sophomores Max Suter and Mike Holmes helped give the Orange one of the nation's best kick return units a year ago. Each of the returners averaged more than 25 yards a return. Suter was second in the Big East in returns and took one back for 93 yards, while Holmes has a touchdown return this year. Against WVU's shaky kickoff coverage team and tactics, this could be Syracuse's one big advantage.
By The Numbers
WVU Net Punting 41.6 yards per punt, Kickoff Returns 21.9 yards per return , Punt Returns 11.9 yards per return
SU Net Punting 46.6 yards per punt , Kickoff Returns 23.2 yards per return, Punt Returns 3.0 yards per return
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Noel Devine
On Defense: Scooter Berry
Many people think this game should be a pushover for West Virginia. They are right -- it should be. However, there are a few causes for concern. The first is the running game of Syracuse. If the Orange can break a couple long runs and control the ball they can keep it close. Second, this could be a potential trap game for West Virginia, which should be careful to not get caught looking ahead to Auburn. Third, Syracuse is getting better -- just ask Pitt. If it weren't for18 fourth quarter points by the Panthers, Syracuse would have won that game. This game should go West Virginia's way, but it's not a game to take lightly.
West Virginia - 35 Syracuse - 13