Can Syracuse slow down West Virginia's high-powered offense?
The third annual bowl game at Yankee Stadium may technically be a matchup between the Big 12’s West Virginia Mountaineers and the Big East’s Syracuse Orange. But the reality is that this is a grudge match between former Big East rivals who first played in 1945 and have played every year since 1955.
Since 1993, the winner of the rivalry has been awarded the Floyd “Ben” Schwartzwalder Trophy — a hulking 55-pound award that was sculpted by Syracuse player Jim Ridlon and named after the former West Virginia player and Syracuse head coach. This time around, the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy — named after the late, great seven-time World Series champion New York Yankees owner — will also be on the line.
The Orange lead the all-time series, 32–27, including victories over the Mountaineers in each of their past two meetings following an eight-game win streak by WVU over SU from 2002-09. Last season, Syracuse dominated West Virginia, 49–23, scoring more points in the series than it had since 1960. Two years ago, the Orange went on the road for a 19–14 win in Morgantown.
Pinstripe Bowl — West Virginia (7–5) vs. Syracuse (7–5)
Date and Time: Dec. 29 at 3:15 p.m. ET
Location: Bronx, N.Y.
When the West Virginia Mountaineers have the ball:
The short right field porch at Yankee Stadium won’t come into play at this year’s Pinstripe Bowl, but there could be plenty of home runs hit judging by the Mountaineers’ recent history. This season, WVU’s scoring offense ranked No. 7 nationally, averaging 41.6 points per game. And that doesn’t include last year’s bowl, when West Virginia crushed Clemson, 70–33, in a game that broke nine Orange Bowl records.
It’s easy to forget, but WVU quarterback Geno Smith was the clear Heisman Trophy frontrunner following a 5–0 start to the season in which he threw 24 TDs and zero INTs. A five-game slide followed, abruptly ending Smith’s award-worthy campaign. But the senior from Miami still finished the season with 4,004 yards, 40 TDs and six INTs — with the help of prolific receivers Stedman Bailey (106 catches for 1,501 yards, 23 TDs) and Tavon Austin (110 catches for 1,259 yards, 12 TDs).
For all his success, however, Smith has struggled in his two starts against Syracuse, completing a combined 44-of-78 passes for 516 yards, three TDs and five INTs while going 0–2 against the Orange. Smith will also be without center Joe Madsen for the Pinstripe Bowl, as the senior was ruled academically ineligible.
“With Syracuse, we have some unfinished business,” said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. “Their scheme got us a little bit. We’ll see how much improvement we made on specific looks. They’re very much a dial-up-a-defense kind of team, so you don’t know what you’re going to get.
“Seventeen of the first 18 blitzes last year were different, so we have to identify that and get in the right play. (Geno Smith) has matured a bunch. And from a scheme standpoint, he is going to be able to see that and make some pretty good checks — I feel comfortable about that.”
When the Syracuse Orange have the ball:
Doug Marrone was Drew Brees’ offensive coordinator with the New Orleans Saints before taking over at Syracuse. While Orange senior signal-caller Ryan Nassib may not be a Super Bowl MVP, he could be a Pinstripe Bowl MVP soon enough. After passing for 3,619 yards, 24 TDs and nine INTs, Nassib will be leaned on to match scoring strikes with WVU’s Smith — who is ranked by many as the top quarterback prospect in April’s 2013 NFL Draft.
“The Pinstripe Bowl is going to be a great game with two high powered offenses going head-to-head,” said Nassib. “It is going to be a lot of fun for me and the other seniors. This is like our Super Bowl.”
West Virginia’s defense allowed 38.1 points per game, ranking No. 114, or seventh-worst, in the country. The Mountaineers allowed 45 or more points in six games and could struggle to slow down Nassib’s favorite receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales, as well as the Orange’s backfield duo of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley.
Syracuse has a 6–1 record at Yankee Stadium, including a 3–0 win over Pittsburgh in the first college football game played at the old ballpark in 1923. But given a month to gameplan, the coach-QB duo of Holgorsen and Smith could call their shot — maybe not quite like last year’s Ruthian 70-point Orange Bowl effort — at the home of the Bronx Bombers.
Prediction: West Virginia 45, Syracuse 38
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