Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

December 26, 2012

Familiar foe awaits West Virginia in Pinstripe Bowl

BLUEFIELD — It’s likely that Yankee Stadium — either one of them — has ever seen scoring like it will see on Saturday.

That is when West Virginia (7-5) will face former Big East foe Syracuse (7-5) in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Both teams can score, but stopping the other team has been a problem, especially for the Mountaineers.

They might get help from Mother Nature. West Virginia had to practice inside its hotel on Wednesday because of bad weather, and the forecast on Saturday is calling for a high of 35 degrees and a 40 percent chance of snow.

West Virginia was 5-0 at one point this season and ranked as high as fourth in the nation. A five-game losing streak followed, but the Mountaineers were able to win their final two, but — one year after scoring 70 points against Clemson in the Orange Bowl — had to settle for a trip to New York for the third year of the Pinstripe Bowl at the new Yankee Stadium.

Syracuse, which played in and won the first Pinstripe Bowl against Kansas State 36-34 in 2010, enters having won three in a row and five out of six after starting the season with a 2-4 mark.

These clubs have played often in the Big East, with the Doug Marrone-coached Orange winning two of the last three, including last year’s 49-23 decision in Syracuse, one of just three losses all season for the Mountaineers.

That improved the Orange’s mark to 32-27 against West Virginia.

The Pinstripe Bowl held a press conference earlier this month, and the organizers raved about the offensive weapons that will be on display in this one. They didn’t, however, talk about the weather.

Among the players being touted were Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey for West Virginia, and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon.

Smith was a Heisman Trophy candidate early in the season, and still had a remarkable campaign even as the Mountaineers struggled down the stretch, throwing for 4,004 yards, 40 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Both of his receivers earned All-America designation, including Stedman Bailey (106-1,501 yards, 23 touchdowns) and Tavon Austin (110-1,259 yards, 12 td). Austin also ran for a school record 344 yards against Oklahoma, and nearly eclipsed a national record for all-purpose yards in a game.

He is second on West Virginia with 598 yards and three scores on the ground. Austin was also a weapon on special teams, returning both a kick and punt for touchdowns this season.

That trio helped West Virginia rank seventh in scoring offense (41.58), sixth in passing (340.92) and eighth in total offense (518.50).

Unfortunately, as good as West Virginia’s statistics have been on offense, they have been just as poor on the other side of the ball.

The Mountaineers enter ranked 114th in scoring defense (38.08), 107th in total defense (469.58), 119th in pass defense (327.08), and 101st in net punting.

West Virginia has allowed at least 39 points in seven straight games, including as many as 63, 55 (twice) and 50.

Changes were made since the regular season-ending 59-10 rout of Kansas, with West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen switching roles and titles on his defensive staff, making Keith Patterson defensive coordinator and moving  Joe DeForest to co-coordinator.

That defense will be challenged by Nassib, who has quietly put together his own memorable season for Syracuse, throwing for 3,619 yards, 24 touchdowns and just nine picks, while drawing the interest of NFL scouts.

Lemon is his favorite target, catching 70 passes for 1,063 yards and seven scores, while Marcus Sales (63-863, 8 td) is also a prime target.

Jerome Smith has led Syracuse with 1,019 yards on the ground, while West Virginia has been paced by Andrew Buie with 817 yards and seven scores. Both could play big roles on Saturday because of the impending weather.

Syracuse has scored at least 31 points in five of its last six games, including  wins over Connecticut (40-10), South Florida (37-36), Louisville (45-26), Missouri (31-27) and Temple (38-20). The Orange also scored 41 and 29 points in losses early in the season to Northwestern and Southern Cal.

West Virginia has been led on defense by Karl Joseph with 95 tackles, while Josh Francis has 15 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks. Syracuse is paced by Shamarko Thomas with 84 tackles, while Brandon Sharpe has 13 1/2 stops for negative yardage and six sacks.

Syracuse had just nine interceptions all season, while the Mountaineers had seven.

West Virginia is a 3 1/2 point favorite against the Orange.

Saturday’s game will begin at 3:15 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.

—Contact Brian Woodson

 at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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