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WVU offense, defense clicking

MORGANTOWN - No. 11 West Virginia is one of four teams to rank in the top 20 nationally in total offense and total defense. The Mountaineers are No. 11 in offense (503.5 yards per game) and No. 16 in defense (301.17).

Wisconsin (No. 8 offense, No. 7 defense), Boise State (No. 12 offense, No. 10 defense) and Stanford (No. 16 offense, No. 14 defense) are unbeaten and in the top 10 of the BCS ratings and the Associated Press poll.

The Mountaineers are No. 15 in the BCS behind one-loss teams Arkansas, Oregon, Virginia Tech, Nebraska and South Carolina. There are no other Big East Conference teams in the BCS or the national rankings.

 "West Virginia is probably the best team that has come here since I've been here," Syracuse Coach Doug Marrone said.

He is 1-3 against ranked teams since taking over before the 2009 season. The victory was against WVU last season at Mountaineer Field. Syracuse lost at home to then-No. 7 Cincinnati in 2009, 28-7, when the Bearcats finished the regular season unbeaten.

WVU is 7-8 all-time in the Carrier Dome and has won four straight there. No other team has ever won more than three in a row in the building that opened in 1980.

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WVU PICKED up another nationally televised football game Monday. ABC announced it will broadcast the 3:30 p.m. Oct. 29 game at Rutgers.

The Mountaineers (5-1, 1-0 Big East) are 2-1 on national television this season with a win against Marshall on ESPN and against Maryland on ESPNU and a loss to LSU on ESPN. They play on ESPN at 8 p.m. Friday against Syracuse (4-2, 0-1).  

The Scarlet Knights lead the Big East at 2-0. They're 5-1 overall and play at Louisville Friday. WVU has won 17 in a row in the series with the last loss coming in 1994 in Piscataway, N.J.

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PRIOR TO WORKING his team out a few times last week, WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said he was a little worried about what the open week and the time off would do to the timing the Mountaineers rely on so much in their offense.

"You can lose it really quick," he said.

"If you take a couple of weeks off, you're back where you started. That's the reality of throwing the ball and maintaining how fast you run your routes and knowing when the ball needs to come out of your hands. The timing from an offensive perspective is critical and if you do take too many days off, then you're going to lose it and you've got to start over."

With the players and the coaches, who were out recruiting, back on campus, WVU got together for a practice Sunday.

Holgorsen was pleased with how well everyone and everything clicked.

"What our job is as coaches is to get concerned about something," he said. "We had a good two days, three days last week and Geno completed 94 percent of his passes (Sunday). It looked to me like the timing was pretty doggone good."

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SYRACUSE IS No. 112 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in pass defense. The Orange have seen two top-25 passing offenses and Wake Forest and Southern Cal had their way.

The Demon Deacons, No. 24 in passing offense (296.67 yards per game), passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns.

The Trojans, No. 21 in passing offense (297.33), passed for 326 yards and five touchdowns.

The Orange have allowed three 100-yard receivers and big days against teams that have struggled.

Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin was 10-for-19 for 74 yards and interception in a 45-6 loss at Army Oct. 1. A week later, Griffin was 24-for-30 for 320 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse.

The Mountaineers are No. 4 in passing offense and have Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Ivan McCartney all in the top 50 in receiving yards per game. That gives quarterback Geno Smith a luxury shared by no other quarterback in the country.

Marrone said Smith is making the most of it.

"Geno Smith is playing extremely well," he said. "I think that's the biggest difference from last year to this year and it's a credit to him. He looks very comfortable and he's doing an outstanding job with this football team. It's the same situation. They still have lots of dangerous players who are explosive. Once they get the ball in their hands they can take it to the end zone

"They spread you out, which makes it very difficult to take someone out of the game, if you're going to try to do that, which we tried to do earlier when we played USC and Wake Forest.

"The players they have at West Virginia are much more difficult in the system they have."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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