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Mountaineer defense didn't have a chance

By Jack Bogaczyk

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Syracuse Coach Doug Marrone, in the glow of a signature victory for his football program, talked of "going forward."

From the other side of a Carrier Dome hallway, West Virginia was trying to figure out how to do just that after going backward big time with the Mountaineers' worst Big East loss in a decade.

In its 49-23 loss to the Orange on Friday night, WVU (5-2, 1-1) plummeted in more than the national rankings - to No. 25 on Sunday (Associated Press) from No. 11. Heading toward Halloween, these Mountaineers certainly didn't expect to be among a not-so-scary five teams tied for third place in another ho-hum Big East.

WVU came out of its bye week flatter than the Carrier turf field, which has no crown. The Mountaineers were mediocre at best in all three phases of the game, as Coach Dana Holgorsen admitted in his postgame remarks.

Syracuse (5-2, 1-1) dominated in the trenches. The Mountaineer defense couldn't get off the turfed floor below the big bubble.

The Orange had a 41 rush-33 pass mix. The way they ran for 194 yards through WVU, you'd have thought Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little and Larry Csonka were still Orangemen pounding through tacklers.

While SU quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for four touchdowns on a 24-of-32 night, Mountaineer QB Geno Smith, harassed throughout by a Syracuse blitz package that seemed to include everyone except Otto the Orange mascot, was on target in his assessment.

"It's probably my worst loss ever," Smith said when asked about it being the most lopsided decision of his WVU days. "It's disappointing because we worked so hard. We prepared hard. We felt like we had a good game plan. We felt like we had everything to prove. It's just disappointing that we didn't come out and put our best foot forward."

Or, put it this way:

  • It's one thing to lose to an LSU club headed for the top of the polls by 26 points, as West Virginia did four weeks earlier. It's another to lose by 26 to a program that has had only one winning season in the last decade and is only 9-35 in Big East play since conference football realigned in 2005.
  • Some longtime Mountaineer media regulars thought back to the 41-7 Maryland pasting of WVU in the 2002 Gator Bowl - the first in an active streak of nine postseason trips - as the last time the 'Eers were so pinned back.
  • Syracuse's scoreboard number was the highest in a Big East game against WVU in 21 league seasons, and the most points by anyone against the Mountaineers in two decades (51-6, at Penn State, 1991, the last WVU visit to State College).
  • Gone are WVU's hopes of a 7-0 Big East season, as the Mountaineers head to Rutgers (5-2, 2-1) for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. kickoff. Trashed was West Virginia's four-game win streak at the SU home dome, a record for any visiting team in the building that opened in 1980.

    The WVU defense was ripped repeatedly by the SU running game and torched by tight end wheel routes when Syracuse went over the middle for needed yardage on second and third downs. Holgorsen called his defenders "in the vicinity."

    Actually, they were about as behind as WVU was on the scoreboard.

    "They just physically whipped us, from the opening whistle to the end of it," said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, whose unit allowed 142 yards above its 301-yard average entering the game.

    WVU couldn't get a grip on first down. Syracuse averaged 6.0 yards on 29 first-down plays. Only twice in those 29 - two incomplete Ryan Nassib passes - did SU fail to gain yardage.

    There was no stopping the Orange.

    "Never. I don't think we had them in a third-and-5-plus the whole game," Casteel said. "They were really successful on first down running the football, and then if we had some success on first down, they'd quick-game us or dump a ball for 6, 7 (yards) and get us back into third-and-2."

    SU's front, coached up by former Nitro High and Marshall lineman and assistant coach Greg Adkins, the Orange offensive line coach, didn't allow sack, the fourth time in seven games West Virginia has been without a passing QB takedown.

    "We took a look at the LSU film and they kind of punched them in the mouth," Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh said of WVU's 47-21 loss. "They had the kind of mentality we had last year (in a stunning win at Mountaineer Field).

    "We just wanted to go out there and make sure we were physical up front. We just focused on getting one first down at a time, moving the ball up the field. We were able to accomplish that tonight."

    The Orange defensive four-man front, with help from its blitzers, tore repeatedly through West Virginia's overwhelmed -- and overrated -- offensive line, too.

    "They blitzed almost on every snap," Holgorsen said. "Even when they didn't blitz, their pass rush was better than our pass blocking. That's what really exposed us. It was exposed by their defensive line and linebackers. They were just beating us up.

    "If you look at it on the other side, their offensive line mauled us. We were exposed up front. Our kickoff team didn't do a good job getting down the field. Their kickoff team ran right through us.

    "They made plays and played harder. We have played the same way since Game 1. There have been games when we've been more physical than our opponent. I give Syracuse credit."

    Holgorsen was right. On a night when Syracuse had more than enough answers, the Mountaineers headed home with more questions about themselves than they've faced all season.

    "Sometimes you've got to take the bad with the good," Casteel said, "and this was a rough one."

    Right now, the only conference realignment WVU needs to worry about is in those 2011 Big East standings.

    Contact Sports Editor Jack

    Bogaczyk at or 304-348-7949.



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