Syracuse runs over West Virginia in New Era Pinstripe Bowl

SU cruised to an easy 38-14 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers thanks to an unrelenting rushing attack that ran for over 370 yards.

The Syracuse football team (8-5) notched another victory at the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium by a score of 38-14 over West Virginia (7-6). A bowl game between two familiar foes led to great hype for the game, and it delivered. Running backs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley stole the show and left the Mountaineers gasping for breath.

Photo: Sterling Boin
Syracuse players celebrate a 38-14 victory over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

Gulley led the two-headed rushing attack, amassing over 250 total yards, 208 rushing and 56 receiving. The junior also scored three times, twice on the ground and one off a nice screen pass from quarterback Ryan Nassib. Smith chipped in with 157 yards on 30 carries. The Orange would finish with a combined 369 rushing yards.

The game started with high-power offense. The Mountaineers drove the ball down the field, with the help of some untimely SU penalties, and ended up settling for a field goal opportunity. SU blocked the kick, leading to a second half better described as a series of missed opportunities.

“I’m not going to sit here and pinpoint exact guys and situations that we missed out on,” said West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. “We should have executed better.”

West Virginia couldn’t maintain any offensive consistency, as they missed out on a big fourth down opportunity and bailed the Orange out with a couple of offensive penalties. These mistakes gave the Orange a big opportunity to control the tempo of the game.

“Getting some balance with our running and passing game allows us to have flexibility coming into the game,” said SU head coach Doug Marrone. “It gives you the ability to play differently in certain situations.”

The situation seemed to call for the running game to be the focal point, as the Orange continued to pound the ball until they were able to get into the end zone. A failed fourth down conversion on the Mountaineers one-yard line was redeemed when the SU defense sacked West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith in the end zone for a safety, giving the Orange a 5-0 lead and the ball.

This time the offense capitalized on the opportunity. Prince-Tyson Gulley scored on a 33-yard run through the heart of the defense, his first touchdown of the evening. 

“It was definitely fun playing in the snow,” said Gulley. “In pee-wees I played in something like this, but never in high school.”

The only Mountaineer offensive spark came after the Gulley touchdown. Geno Smith connected on a quick bubble screen to wide reciever Stedman Bailey who took it the distance for a 32-yard touchdown. Bailey added another touchdown later in the game, leaving him one touchdown short of the NCAA record for touchdown receptions in a season.

The Orange came out after halftime getting chunks of yardage that eventually culminated in a deflected TD pass from Nassib into the hands of tight end Beckett Wales. This gave the Orange a 19-7 lead.

“We wanted to pass the ball so bad, but when you get the push that the offensive line was getting you can’t stop running,” said SU offensive coordinator Nate Hackett. “Whenever you get a strong, physical, nasty line and you get the footing that they were getting, it’s like taking candy from a baby.”

The offensive line did just that when they opened a hole that Gulley busted through and ripped down the right sideline for a 67-yard touchdown, the longest run in Pinstripe Bowl history. Those on the offensive line weren't the only ones getting credited with the remarkable rushing output.

“The wide receivers didn’t have a lot of catches, a lot of yards, but a lot of what we were able to do was because of them,” said Hackett.

Hackett described the wide receiver’s crack-back blocking of inside defenders as key in getting swing passes and outside runs to work. None was more evident then when on the Mountaineer’s 10-yard line: Nassib swung a pass to Gulley who was able to get into the end zone for the last touchdown of the game.

This game hit home for both Marrone and linebacker Siriki Diabete, who both went to Lehman High School just down the road. “I remember being in the stands during the first one and wishing I was in the game,” said Diabete. “I knew I had to take advantage when I had the chance to play.”

Diabete aided in the first safety and was a constant force throughout the game. The sendoff for Diabete and the rest of the SU seniors resulted in a victory but served as something more for them.

“I’ve said before that this is the closest group of kids I’ve had since I started coaching here,” said Marrone. “I think it was special for them. I think winning the second [Pinstripe Bowl] has made this a special place for all of us.”

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