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."