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WVU quarterback shows leadership in defeat

By Jack Bogaczyk

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Geno Smith completed 24 passes in West Virginia's humbling football loss at Syracuse, but it was a connection that didn't show up in the game statistics that the Mountaineers might have needed most.

At the end of WVU's 49-23 Carrier Dome loss, the junior quarterback gathered his offensive teammates for one final huddle.

"Geno gathered us and told us we needed to keep our heads up," WVU wide receiver Stedman Bailey said after his school-record fifth consecutive 100-yard receiving game, which included a 64-yard touchdown. "He said there's a lot more football to be played and this game doesn't have to define our season.

"We've got to learn from the mistakes we made today and move forward."

Bailey, who finished with seven catches for 130 yards, was joined by teammate Brad Starks with scoring receptions. But it was a tough night for Smith, who threw a pair of interceptions, was sacked four times and knocked down a double-figure number of times.

Bailey said that although WVU knew Syracuse would blitz constantly, "for the most part we thought the offensive line would take care of that, with the running backs picking up things, but (the Orange) do a lot of faking and twisting guys."

The WVU receiver said the result was Smith was throwing from different drops and angles than usual, and receivers were changing routes to try and get completions against the Orange charge led by defensive end Chandler Jones.

Smith said he just did what he thought a team leader should do in his postgame huddling with his offensive mates.

"First off I just want to tip my hat off to Syracuse," Smith said. "They played a great game. They really hit us in the mouth ... We didn't respond very well.

"It's tough. It hurts. I can't even lie and say it doesn't hurt. I'm bleeding right now in my soul. I just have to move on and be a leader and help this team move on and get better.

"I just didn't want them to hang their heads and let this define our season because we are better than what we showed today and I believe that. I believe that we are going to fight back and come back from this.

"This is going to definitely be a steppingstone for us and we're going to show improvement. Everyone has to do this. We all have to buy in and we all have to understand that a loss is a loss and you can't dwell on it."

*  *  *

ORANGE COACH Doug Marrone said his team's game plan was focused on trying to take away the Mountaineers' playmaker ... or at least make him very uncomfortable.

So, SU pressured Smith as no one had before, last season or this.

"We said it during the week," Marrone said. "We just had to do a good job of keeping the quarterback off balance, and we did a good job with that for most of the game. We did give up some big plays, but everyone knew what the game plan was.

"You have to keep him off balance and keep mixing it up. (Coordinator Scott) Shafer and the defensive staff did a nice job, and credit to the players for executing and really doing a good job."

*  *  *

THE FOUR scoring passes by Syracuse senior Ryan Nassib in Friday's game put him on a pretty exclusive list in WVU annals. Only seven players have passed for that many scores (five is the record) against WVU in the school's 1,197 games in history.

"We did a good job of mixing up pass and run," Nassib said when asked about his 24-for-32 passing success for 229 yards with four scores and no interceptions. "Our running game was doing well and usually when that happens in this system, is when we are at our best.

"That is really how we were able to keep up under the pressure."

Nassib, who holds the Orange record for TD tosses in a game with five last season against FCS member Maine, said the extra (bye) week of preparation against WVU's 3-3-5 odd stack defense paid dividends.

Syracuse's 12-of-17 third down conversion rate was a key in Nassib's mind.

"Really (it was) just patience," he said. "Good play calling. We got a good feeling what they were doing on third down early in the game, so it really helped us out. I made some throws and we ended up making some big plays."

*  *  *

THE LOSS was West Virginia's most lopsided in Big East play since falling 45-3 at Miami (Fla.) in October 2001.

The difference?

Those Hurricanes were the nation's top-ranked team, and WVU was headed for a 3-8 finish in then-Coach Rich Rodriguez's first season on his alma mater's sideline.

The Mountaineers came to the Carrier Dome on Friday ranked No. 11 in the AP poll, and were the highest-ranked club to fall to an Orange team since unranked Syracuse downed No. 8 Virginia Tech 50-42 in three Carrier Dome overtimes in November 2002.

*  *  *

AS TELLING a statistic as any in the game was an offensive one for Syracuse. The Orange had no negative yardage plays in the win over WVU, which had won eight straight in the series until falling last year at Mountaineer Field.

And West Virginia, which had allowed 31 or more points only three times in 52 games from 2007-10, has allowed 31 or more three times this season - in a win at Maryland and losses to LSU and Syracuse.

This was about more than another struggling start for West Virginia, which has been outscored 133-87 in first halves in seven games.

"It's obvious we have to get a lot better," said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, looking toward the Mountaineers' trip to Rutgers on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC telecast). "Obviously, we're not there yet.

Casteel was asked if he figured the coaching staff would have no issues motivating WVU to play the Scarlet Knights (5-2, 2-1) after the debacle in the dome.

"You'd think," he said, "but we'll do some evaluation ... Everybody's embarrassed. The coaches are embarrassed; the kids are embarrassed. You go on national TV and Syracuse put it to us. Hopefully, they'll be excited to play Rutgers next week."

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.

 


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