By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
SYRACUSE, N.Y. —
The scab hadn’t even begun to form on the staggeringly one-sided defeat Syracuse laid on West Virginia University here Friday night when the healing process began to take form.
Geno Smith, a battered and beleaguered quarterback who was on the short end of a 49-23 score, gathered his team around him on the sideline as game was counting down toward zero.
“He was telling us to keep our heads up, that this game would not determine our season,” wide receiver Stedman Bailey revealed, admitting that it did wipe out the goal they had established of winning the Big East with a 7-0 record.
Indeed, despite the pain of having been beaten in a league game for the first time this season and the second time including the LSU loss and despite the pain of having given up 49 points, the most since Penn State scored 51 in a 51-6 romp on Oct. 26, 1991, the world had not come to an end.
Louisville had already defeated Rutgers, meaning there are no undefeated teams left in the Big East.
“We know how this league works,” said defensive tackle Julian Miller. “You’re always in the hunt. You can win with one loss.”
But WVU isn’t about to escape this season with only one Big East loss if it plays the way it played in this one, Syracuse bloodying its nose, breaking its jaw and leaving it lying on the ground as the referee counted to 10.
It was obvious right from the start that Syracuse was going to beat the daylights out of West Virginia.
At one point in the first quarter Syracuse had run 20 plays to the Mountaineers’ three and out, had scored a touchdown to lead, 7-0, and the Mountaineers were spinning dizzily out of control.
The offense, at least, would put up some numbers, but none of them could match the four sacks for 35 painful yards in losses that Smith suffered.
“It’s been the same all year,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We are not a very efficient football team. We make some big plays, but we’re not efficient. We knew what they were going to do. We knew they were going to play a bunch of people up and blitz half the time. We have to do a better job of recognizing that.”
As for the defense, well let’s just say that they had to believe this was a Saturday game, not a Friday night game.
They could not win first down or third down, which meant that Syracuse could pretty much do whatever it wanted … and what it wanted to do was kick butt.
“I don’t think we had them in a third-and-5 all night,” said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. “We were not consistent stopping first-down runs and couldn’t make a play on the ball when they passed.”
The result was Syracuse actually outgained WVU, 443 yards to 408, and quarterback Ryan Nassib outpassed Smith, completing 25 of 33 while Smith hit 24 of 41, Smith throwing two touchdowns, Nassib four.
That is worth repeating … Nassib threw four TD passes, all to wide-open receivers.
“Obviously, we missed some assignments,” Casteel said.
If his defenders missed as many assignments in class as they missed on the field they would all have gotten incompletes for grades.
WVU never managed to lead in the game, although the Mountaineers did have one moment when they came to life, Stedman Bailey making an incredible catch and run in double coverage of a Smith pass for a 64-yard touchdown that narrowed Syracuse’s lead to 14-9.
The trouble with that was the Mountaineers had to kick off then and, just as happened against LSU as WVU drew to within a touchdown, the kickoff was run back 98 yards for a touchdown by Dorian Graham.
That made it 21-9 and although WVU scored coming out in the second half to again get it back to five points, Syracuse simple battered them around the rest of the way, Nassib hitting David Stevens for one TD, Nick Provo for two while Anton Bailey ran a final one in to turn the game into an embarrassment.
NOTES: WVU WR Stedman Bailey surpassed 100 yards receiving for his fifth straight game, a Mountaineer record. … WVU WR Ivan McCartney seemed to be injured seriously during the game but wound up playing again before the night was over. … Bradley Starks returned his first career kickoff 31 yards. In the third quarter WVU stopped using Tavon Austin on returns. … Best WVU hit of the night by DB Keith Tandy, perfectly timed on a punt returner just as the ball arrived. … Best Syracuse hit? Almost every one of them. … Ryan Nassib passed Don McPherson for fourth place on Syracuse’s all-time completion list during the game. He’s not first because he has faced WVU only twice.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.