By CLIFF NICHOLS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
NEW YORK —
Jeff Braun wasn’t looking for excuses following West Virginia University’s 38-14 loss in the Pinstripe Bowl Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
He moved from guard to center because Joe Madsen, the veteran starter, was academically ineligible.
The West Virginia offense was held to 285 total yards in a steady rain and snow that made the field conditions poor. The Mountaineers had only 88 rushing yards on 37 tries.
Syracuse, though, moved the ball well and netted 369 of its 511 total yards on the ground. Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for 208 yards for the Orange, while Jerome Smith added 157.
“It seemed like we would hit big plays and then we would have a negative thing happen afterward, whether it be a penalty or a sack or a tackle for a loss,” Braun said. “We can’t have that. Obviously, we need to execute a lot better than what we did.”
It was WVU’s third straight loss to Syracuse, and the Mountaineers lost six of eight after a 5-0 start to finish 7-6.
“They did everything to a ‘T,’” Braun said. “Odd front. Three down. They blitzed. The one thing that was a little different from last year (a 49-23 Orange win in Syracuse) is I think they tried to disguise it a little bit better.
“Last year they came out and showed you. This year they knew we were trying to check away, check to run, so they tried to disguise it a little bit.”
West Virginia senior Tavon Austin, so explosive throughout the season, ran 12 times for 54 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards.
“They had our number for two years,” Austin said. “They had a good defensive plan over there. They blitzed a lot. Their front four did a good job. There were times we were that close from busting it. It just didn’t happen today.”
Wide receiver Stedman Bailey was West Virginia’s offensive leader with seven catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns, a tackle-breaking 32-yard reception from Geno Smith in the second quarter and a 29-yard pass from Smith in the third.
Smith, who threw for more than 4,000 yards and 42 touchdowns this season, was held to just 197 yards through the air.
Bailey was asked if the Mountaineers were flat heading into the game?
“I’m not sure what other guys had going on, if they were in the game or whatever the case may be,” Bailey said. “We just didn’t do a good job of responding.”
Bailey, with a year of eligibility remaining, has made the decision to move on to the National Football League.
“It’s tough,” he said. “We lost the game. That’s not the way we seniors wanted to go out. Life goes on. We just have to live with it.
“A lot of guys are sad, especially the seniors. That’s not the way we wanted to go out. It’s our last game wearing the gold and blue. We wanted to go out and get a win, end everything on a good note. We didn’t.”
In addition to West Virginia’s defensive woes, the offense was 0-for-11 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth.
The Mountaineers were also penalized 10 times for 106 yards and lost a touchdown because of a holding penalty. Smith was tackled twice in the end zone for a pair of safeties.
“It didn’t look very good,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “The team with the best running game is going to win, and they clearly had the better running game.”
Cliff Nichols writes for the Times-West Virginian of Fairmont. E-mail him at cnichols @ timeswv.com.