Pinstripe Bowl: Orange crush WVU, 38-14
NEW YORK -- With the game out of its control and time running out in the final act of a depressing season, West Virginia had already made enough mistakes on offense, defense and special teams to tell quite a story about the 38-14 loss to Syracuse in Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl.
But on a fourth down at their 41-yard line with 10:17 to go, the Mountaineers found one more way to illustrate this debacle before 39,098 at Yankee Stadium. After an entirely uneventful day of snaps from the new center to the quarterback, Jeff Braun and Geno Smith couldn't connect and Smith picked up the loose ball and fell forward.
He and Braun, who was playing in place of academically ineligible Joe Madsen, stood and watched and could do nothing as the officials stretched the chains and revealed Smith was well short of the first down.
It was that kind of day for WVU, which remarkably didn't convert a third down in 11 attempts. The Mountaineers were on the wrong end of a safety twice in the same game for the first time since 2002 and allowed a pair of 100-yard rushers for the first time since 2005 -- and this indignity came at the end of a season in which the Mountaineers hadn't allow a running back to get 100 yards in a game.
"It's hard to pinpoint one thing, I think," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We did a poor job overcoming adversity. There was a lot of adversity and we did a poor job with it."
Once 5-0 and ranked in the top five of both polls for the first time since the end the 2007 regular season, the Mountaineers lost six of their final eight games and had their worst winning percentage since a 3-8 record in 2001.
"Ever since the Orange Bowl and having such success there, with the expectations moving to a new conference, everything has fallen under our expectations," Braun said. "We fully expected with this team and the talent we had to go to the national championship. We didn't live up to that and obviously we didn't even win the Big 12 championship. That hurts."
Smith completed 16 of 24 passes for 197 yards and two scores, but surrendered two safeties and a turnover against the Syracuse pressure. Tavon Austin had just two catches for 21 yards and added 54 yards rushing 12 carries. Stedman Bailey was the lone bright spot with seven catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the final college game for all three and the 285 yards of offense was the second-lowest total in the past 30 games.
"If you go 0-for on third down and get 280-some yards of offense, you're probably going to get your ass whipped," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.
The Mountaineers (7-6) committed 10 penalties for 106 yards and the defense gave up 511 yards of offense with 369 coming on the ground. It was the most yards allowed on the ground since a 1999 loss to Navy.
The Orange (8-5) hadn't had more than 278 rushing yards in a game this season, but averaged 6.0 yards on 63 rushes in the cold and the snow to win for the sixth time in seven games.
WVU had 61 total snaps and only 88 yards rushing.
"The team with the best running game was going to win and they clearly had the best running game," Holgorsen said.
Prince Tyson-Gulley, who had never had a 100-yard game, had 215 yards and two scores rushing and added 50 yards and a touchdown receiving. Jerome Smith added a career-high 158 yards rushing.
"I don't know any other way to put it, but through the course of the game, I was absolutely shocked they could run the football on us," WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said.
Syracuse created some space by opening the second half with a touchdown drive. Quarterback Ryan Nassib, who didn't complete a pass to a receiver in the first half, had a 19-yard completion to Marcus Sales and a 17-yard completion to Jarrod West, both receivers.
On third-and-7, linebacker Isaiah Bruce tipped a pass at the goal line, but it fluttered to tight end Beckett Wales, who was alone in the end zone.
It was the fifth touchdown by an Orange tight end in the past two games against WVU.
The Mountaineers muffed the kickoff return and an illegal block on top of that started the drive at the 5, but Bailey turned a short pass into a 59-yard gain on second down. Andrew Buie appeared to score on a 28-yard run on fourth-and-2, but WVU was called for holding.
Holgorsen called a timeout and demanded to speak to the referee, Jay Stricherz, but the Mountaineers had to punt. Holgorsen declined to comment on what happened, but he and his players were visibly upset with the officials throughout the game.
"I didn't see any of the holds when we were on offense," Braun said. "I have nothing to say on that one. I didn't see it."
There was a brief reprieve two plays later when Bruce intercepted Nassib to make up for what he barely missed a possession earlier. The Orange then blitzed and defensive end Brandon Sharpe hit Smith's arm. The ball squirted loose and linebacker Dyshawn Davis recovered at WVU 33.
Holgorsen challenged the call, but the play was confirmed and Tyson-Gulley scored on the next play for a 26-7 lead.
"It wasn't tricky," Holgorsen said. "They ran a split zone over and over and over again. We run the same play. We didn't have the same success they did. Any time you get outrushed by 300 yards, you're going to have some problems."
WVU didn't blink and Smith's second touchdown to Bailey, a 29-yard strike against one-on-one coverage, came just 61 seconds after Tyson-Gulley's run. Syracuse punched back and after converting a third-and-10 with a 19-yard reception, Tyson-Gulley scored on a 10-yard reception on a simple swing pass and a dash through two missed tackles.
Sharpe struck again on WVU's next drive and was credited for a sack and a safety as Smith was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone. The Orange led 35-14 after the 12th time Smith had been sacked in his 0-3 career against Syracuse.
"There were a lot of situations when we didn't capitalize as an offense and things just didn't go our way on the whole," Smith said. "There were bad holding calls, bad personal foul calls, two safeties, a fumble on my part, just things that really killed our momentum. And then we got stagnant at a certain point."
WVU navigated a list of miscues in the first half and a 12-0 deficit to enter the locker room down just 12-7 with only 146 yards of offense.
In the first quarter alone, the Mountaineers were 0-for-4 on third down, came up short on a fourth down, dropped three passes, stalled a drive with a holding penalty, gave Syracuse two first downs on third down with pass interference penalties, had a 36-yard field goal blocked and then booted a 26-yard punt.
The Orange weren't particularly explosive, though, and only led 3-0 on a 25-yard field goal by Ross Krautman. That came after Syracuse was moving toward the end zone, but had a bad snap, a holding penalty and then a dropped pass by leading receiver Alec Lemon, who would have scored easily on the third-down play.
WVU's defense continued to keep the Mountaineers close and back-to-back stops by safeties Karl Joseph on third down and Darwin Cook on fourth down shut the Orange down at WVU's 1. On first down, though, WVU looked for a deep pass and the offensive line slid to the left while Syracuse came from the right with a blitz.
Running back Shawne Alston had to pick one of three defenders, but couldn't get linebackers Cameron Lynch and Siriki Diabate. Smith lost the football and no one knew it until left guard Josh Jenkins slid in to recover it for an Orange safety.
"We had a bad play called," Braun said. "We had a play-action bass basically where the whole offensive line was going left. They blitzed right. Geno was actually about to check to a run that would have gashed them, but he didn't. They outmanned us on the right side."
After the free kick, Syracuse needed six plays to go 65 yards and scored on a 33-yard run by Tyson-Gulley. The Mountaineers finally answered with a six-play touchdown drive. Syracuse pressured up the middle, but Smith flipped a screen pass to Bailey in the middle of the field and blocks by Austin and Jenkins and a broken tackle by Bailey turned it into a 32-yard touchdown.
Linebacker Terence Garvin, whose sack knocked Nassib out of the game for a play in the second quarter, stripped the ball from Tyson-Gulley and WVU took over at the 50 with 2:34 to go. The offense moved to the 27, but after an incomplete pass, left tackle Quinton Spain was called for a late hit personal foul that set up second-and-25. The Mountaineers ended up punting from where the drive started.
"We had one touchdown in the first half, and the conditions weren't good, but that doesn't mean we can't move the ball and be successful," Holgorsen said. "What were the reasons for that? There are a bunch of reasons.
"We didn't do enough offensively to put ourselves in position to be OK in the first half. Did we leave a lot out there? Yeah. In the second half, they offensively did what we expected to do for four quarters."