NEW YORK -- The four seasons, the spring football, the preseason camps, the obsessive work ethic and the 38 straight starts have taught Geno Smith just about all he needs to know about his position and opposing defenses and how one combats the other.
He has the fundamentals down and the stats so high that he could be the No. 1 pick in April's NFL Draft, but there is this one annual occasion when he has to abandon the things he trusts so he can succeed against something that the logic of the game suggests shouldn't work.
Smith has his third crack at his first win against Syracuse in today's Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. The 3:15 p.m. game will be televised by ESPN.
"They blitz non-stop," Smith said. "There's no rhyme or reason for it. They send five guys over one side at a time. It's really unsound football, but that's the way they play."
It's also a small part of a big story before the game: Both offenses are playing guessing games against the opposing defense.
Smith lives to watch film of himself and opponents. What he's seen from his past against Syracuse is two losses, nine sacks, three touchdowns and five interceptions, as well as an aggressive defense that blitzes a lot but hardly ever the same way twice.
"We'll see how much improvement we've made against specific looks," said WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen, who is 0-1 against Syracuse after last year's 49-23 setback at the Carrier Dome. "They're very much a dial-a-blitz defense where you don't know what you're going to get. Seventeen of their first 18 blitzes last year, I think, were different."
Orange offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is taking an unconventional path toward the game, too. He's done the normal things coaches do before a game. He's reviewed WVU's entire season and searched for what the Mountaineers do against certain offensive packages, in particular down-and-distance scenarios and whatever situations Hackett likes to track.
He's paid close attention to the past few games, not only because teams tend to refine their defenses toward the end of the season with what's worked best, but also because WVU has been better in the past two games than it was in the five before that.
Yet he's also gone back to a loss in 2011 to Pitt. Keith Patterson was named WVU's defensive coordinator this month. He had the same role with the Panthers last season and did his part in a 33-20 win over Syracuse that swung when a safety scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
Hackett has no film of Patterson coaching WVU's defense, so he's gone back to the next best thing.
"There were some things they did to us last year that got us that we want to be prepared for," Hackett said. "There are some basic things that we understand could show up."
Patterson did the same, though, and studied that Pitt game to see what counters Hackett made to the Panthers' defense. He hopes to use that to anticipate how Hackett might behave today.
"The biggest thing I do is re-familiarize myself with the personnel and see if anything we did to those guys might have helped," Patterson said. "But that was at Pitt and we were completely different than what we are right now at WVU. But, obviously, it did help to go back and look."
Syracuse's defense is no treat, either. There's a lot of movement and disguising before the snap and the offense has to be prepared for pressure, even if it's not sure from where Syracuse will send it.