The Orange stun the Mountaineers

Under the lights of national TV, Syracuse shocks No. 11 West Virginia in the Carrier Dome, 49-23. The win secures the second consecutive Schwartzwalder Trophy for SU.

It was completely illogical. That’s the best way to describe what happened in the Carrier Dome Friday night because the outcome was something no one could have predicted.

On one side was the Syracuse University football team, a group that stood at 4-2 and 0-1 in the Big East. All four wins were by less than seven points, the latest of which was a three-point escape against Tulane. Though the team shown flashes of brilliance, they never seemed to  put everything together. Against a top-tier opponent, that wasn’t going to be good enough, even if the game was at a raucous Carrier Dome.

Photo: Sterling Boin
Nick Provo (80) and David Stevens (86) celebrate after a touchdown in the third quarter. SU won 49-23.

On the other side was the No. 11 West Virginia Mountaineers (5-2, 1-1 Big East). The Mountaineers lost one game all season, a 20-point defeat at the hands of top-ranked LSU. Since that game, though, the team had scored 98 points in victories over Bowling Green and Connecticut. They had Geno Smith, the quarterback who had thrown for 2,159 yards and 16 touchdowns, and a bevy of talented receivers who could make plays down the field.

On paper, it looked like it would be a blowout for the visitors. But it was the Orange who took the fight to the Mountaineers, pulling off a stunning 49-23 upset.

“We made plays at the right time,” head coach Doug Marrone said of the victory. “We kept them off-balance.”

Syracuse didn’t have a lot of unsuccessful plays on the evening.  The Orange dominated on offense, defense and special teams against the Mountaineers. They pressured Smith into three sacks and two interceptions. They threw at will on the West Virginia defense, as Ryan Nassib added four touchdowns to his totals.

The biggest play of the night, though, was on special teams. Dorian Graham, the senior who had his best game of the season against Tulane, topped that performance with his second quarter kick return for a touchdown. On the play, Graham ran up the left sideline before cutting to the middle of the field, where he proceeded to outrun West Virginia’s coverage. Ninety-eight yards later, Graham gave Syracuse an emphatic response to an earlier West Virginia score and sent the crowd into hysterics with a 12-point lead.

 “What I saw was just a hole you could drive a truck through,” Graham said of his return for a touchdown. “Like coach told me to do, I took it straight-up and we executed well.”

Like Graham, other unknown heroes helped carry the Orange to victory. Adonis Ameen-Moore and Jerome Smith, the back-up running backs, finally established the power running game the team desperately needed. David Stevens, the senior tight end, snagged the first touchdown catch of his career, a 29-yarder where the West Virginia defense seemed to lose sight of the 6-foot-3 Stevens.

His counterpart at tight end, Nick Provo, had a career day against the West Virginia defense. Just days after being named to the John Mackey Award midseason watch list – an award that honors the best tight end in college football – Provo accumulated six catches for 61 yards and three touchdowns. He dominated the Mountaineers secondary at will, including a leaping catch in the back of the end zone for the game's first touchdown.

“Coach said he’s got to get the playmakers the ball,” Provo said of his performance. “So when they call my name, I just have to make plays.”

Of course, this isn’t to disregard the play of the man throwing the ball, quarterback Nassib. Far from it, as Nassib finished with 229 yards through the air and four touchdowns, all to his tight ends. The quarterback also ran for a touchdown and made several critical throws on third down.

“We did a good job of mixing up pass and run,” Nassib said. “Our running game was doing well and usually when that goes well in our system, that opens up the passing game.” 

Antwon Bailey, the major part of that running game, had another 100-yard day on the ground. Bailey ran through the Mountaineers to the tune of 125 yards and a touchdown. Though, most people will remember his performance for a near ill-fated heave to Alec Lemon, a 20-yard completion into double coverage that seemed to seal West Virginia’s fate.

The group on the other side of the ball also had a hand in that fate. After having multiple weeks to prepare for the Mountaineers, the defense came out blitzing. Changing from the original scheme, the team attempted to pressure Smith into mistakes, often bringing multiple rushers and stacking multiple defenders close to the line of scrimmage.

Though Smith would throw for 338 yards against the Orange, he was also sacked three times and hit nearly every time he dropped back to pass. There were also those two interceptions, one a timely grab by Jeremi Wilkes on SU’s goal line as West Virginia attempted to score its second touchdown of the game. The other was a heave into the middle of the field, a throw that Phillip Thomas, the Syracuse free safety, was only happy to grab.

Of course, that pressure was aided by the return of Chandler Jones, the team’s star defensive end. Jones, who hadn’t played since the Wake Forest game due to a lower-body injury, finished the game with six tackles, two tackles for a loss and two sacks. To Jones, though, the true credit goes to his teammates.

“I feel like it would be a little selfish for me to sit up here and talk about all of the positive plays that I had,” Jones said. “But our team played good as a whole.”

As a team, Syracuse outplayed West Virginia. That’s why the team improved to a 5-2 record, even if no one could have predicted it.





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