FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT
Perhaps no school outside of Pitt garners as much historical hatred for as long a time as does Syracuse. With respect to Virginia Tech, which hasn’t played West Virginia since 2005, and Maryland – a nice border rival, but never one to create much in the way of ill feelings – Mountaineer fans have viewed the Orange as the program to dislike ever since Marvin Graves spiked the ball off Tommy Orr’s helmet. That sparked a memorable bench-clearing brawl that seems more like five years ago than the 20 it is, dating to that 1992 contest in which three key Mountaineers were ejected, along with the back-up bus driver for the Orange.
While the actual back-up bus driver wasn’t tossed, it was a third-team SU lineman, and the Orange rallied to win with the additional aid of two late penalties following a pair of third-down stops by West Virginia. That boiled the blood of the fan base like never before or since, and the litany of games against the Orange through the years since have been special. The 1993 revenge game, a blowout in the Carrier Dome. The 1994Thanksgiving night capper, a cold 13-0 victory over a top 25 Syracuse squad. The 1996 30-7 blowout by Syracuse via a litany of special teams TDs one week after the Miami blocked punt – also the first game Marc Bulger took considerable snaps.
The 1998 rally to beat the No. 15 Orange when Bulger connected with David Saunders on a naked bootleg for the final score in a 35-28 home win. The 2000 game when Syracuse came from behind to win with a touchdown in the closing seconds after which WVU head coach Don Nehlen announced his retirement. The 2003 game in the Dome, the first Mountaineer win in the facility since 1993 when the late Chris Henry broke out as a big play threat. The 15-7 Labor Day weekend win at Syracuse that started the 11-1 season in 2005, broadcast by the same crew that later called the Sugar Bowl win. And the last two games, Syracuse upsets that stunned WVU fans. And the history is even richer, with both teams ending undefeated regular seasons with wins over each other in 1988 and ’89.
MISSING IN ACTION
WVU announced that center Joe Madsen will not play in the Pinstripe Bowl because of grade issues. Madsen, a graduate, needed to pass just six hours during the fall semester to remain eligible for the bowl game, but apparently did not accomplish the work. Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone announced several disciplinary suspensions for the bowl. Running back Adonis Ameen-Moore, a bigger goal line threat, and tight end Max Beaulieu, will not play. Neither are significant losses. Marrone also announced that linebackers Marquis Spruill and Steven Rene will be disciplined, but that Spruill will play.
BATTLE FOR THE … STEINBRENNER?
Syracuse has made it painfully clear – either through the Pinstripe Bowl’s desire to give greater credit to the Steinbrenner trophy, or through the Orange’s desire not to put the Schwartzwalder on the line – that the series trophy played for during the regular season will not be claimed by the winner of this game. And while the bowl game trophy should certainly be respected, it seems odd not to put what’s called a traveling trophy up for grabs simply because the game between the programs is not one in the regular season.
Syracuse is 13-9-1 all-time in bowl games. The tie? The 16-16 game against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Afterward, Syracuse fans sent AU head coach Pat Dye - known for a trademark blue and orange tie - thousands of ties, as Dye made the decision to kick the late field goal for a tie rather then got for the win.
Syracuse won the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl in 2010. Rutgers won it last year, making the Big East 2-0 all-time in the game. SU’s bowl history is impressive, with nine appearances in the Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta or Orange bowls. The Orange have won just two of those games, however. Syracuse’s first four bowl games were the Sugar, the Orange, the Sugar and the Orange – three against current Big 12 teams in Texas, Oklahoma and TCU. In 24 bowl appearances, counting the Pinstripe vs. West Virginia, Syracuse has played current Big 12 teams seven times, by far the most of any conference.
West Virginia has been hurt by the tight end in recent games against Syracuse. That could change in this outing, as the Mountaineers have slightly revamped their defense and should tighten up pressure on SU’s wideouts. Also, remember that it was the odd stack that was torched down the seams. Nobody would argue that West Virginia’s current 3-4 set was solid against the pass. And it’s set-up to face more spreads than power and tight end sets. But it’s tough to imagine the Mountaineers allowing similar numbers as it did the 49-23 loss in Syracuse last year.
Look for the Mountaineers to bring additional pressure and not demand that their slower linebackers try to run with Syracuse receivers down the seam. If WVU can get SU quarterback Ryan Nassib out of his comfort zone via pressure and a few finished sacks – the Mountaineers got closer with pressure all year, but didn’t finish well – the NFL prospect can be rattled. Nassib likes to use his tight ends as a safety net, and will also hit the quick slant to wideouts. Pressure and tight coverage obviously makes that far more difficult, if a defense is able to execute. But bring added numbers and don’t finish the play, and Nassib will have favorable match-ups on the outside and deeper downfield.
Check, too, for other formation and alignment changes with Keith Patterson calling the defenses instead of Joe DeForest. Will West Virginia show added aggressiveness? Will it use more numbers to pressure, or will it pad the back end? How much ground are the linebackers asked to cover, and how often as the corners asked to play bump-and-run, or simply closer to the line?
HEAD TO HEAD
West Virginia edged out Syracuse 11-10 in head-to-head match-ups in Big East play. WVU won eight straight games from 2002-2009. If the Mountaineers would have won those gams, this contest would be to tie up the all-time series at 30-30. As it is, Syracuse leads 32-27. The teams are unlikely to play often after this season.
AT THE SOURCE
Syracuse has not played an offense that ranked in the top 25 at the end of the season. West Virginia faced seven such teams. So when noting that the Orange rank 52nd in scoring defense while WVU is 113th, the competition level should be noted. That’s not to write that the Orange don’t have the players and ability to slow West Virginia. But, other than USC, no Syracuse foes can hit the big play like the Mountaineers.