Pinstripe Bowl Fizz 5: The Most Important Takeaways from SU’s Season

The five biggest themes from Syracuse’s 2nd bowl win in three years.

Rich Barnes, USA Today

Three strikes and you’re out, West Virginia. That was the Orange motto this past week leading up to the 38-14 beat down of the Mountaineers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Three straight years, and three straight wins over SU’s former conference rival. A fitting ending to SU’s time in the Big East.

Syracuse had a much better gameplan for the snow, wind and freezing rain, and used its run game to blitz WVU in the second half. Game MVP Prince-Tyson Gulley powered the Orange on the ground with 215 yards, 50 more through the air, and three scores. It was an amazing finish for SU, from 2-4 to 8-5, SU didn’t miss a beat in the final stretch of the season, and it showed Saturday. For the last time this year, here’s the Fizz Five takeaways from SU’s dominant Pinstripe Bowl victory.

  • WVU’s Had A Loser’s Mentality

This much was clear: WVU staggered into New York dejected and lackadaisical, dreaming more about what bowl it could have been playing in rather than the one it was. Both Dana Holgorsen and AD Oliver Luck (who’s had no problem disrespecting Syracuse in the past) made similar comments over the weekend about how the Mountaineers should have been playing in Florida or California. The last place a once 5-0 team with a Heisman candidate QB wanted to be was playing was the sloppy snow and rain at a baseball stadium. That attitude showed on the field.

Holgorsen forced the passing game with Geno Smith throughout the first half and it ended up biting the Mountaineers. Midway through the second half, Geno was an ugly 4-10 for 17 yards. WVU was backed up at its own 1-yard line and Holgorsen called for a pass play. Cam Lynch came through and tackled Smith for the safety. West Virginia refused to adjust to the inclement weather and could not get anything done through the air. WVU ran the ball 35 times compared to SU’s 65 run plays. WVU is built on speed, and when its not airing it out, the offense runs a lot of screens and flat passes. But that lateral game doesn’t work in the slippery conditions. Jerome Smith and PTG racked up over 350 yards alone by running north and south, straight through defenders.

  • We Get To Watch PTG & Smith Run Wild Another Year

Orange Nation should be stoked. The duo combined to become a dynamic tandem this season. Gulley reeled in the Pinstripe Bowl MVP award. His buddy Smith was right there with him, piling up 158 yards. All season long, Rome and the rest of the backfield teased PTG for not hitting the century mark. Well, he’s got a nice, new, shiny trophy to show off until next fall. The offensive line won the point of attack all day long and plowed some huge holes for its backs.

The pair complement each other brilliantly. It almost looked like Smith was searching for Mountaineer DB’s to run over rather than evading them. It was a total transformation in the second half of the season for Rome. He told The Fizz back in September and October, he was seeing “ghosts” out on the field. He couldn’t locate defenders and had trouble busting big runs. But over his final seven games, he averaged 117 yards a contest. A terrific finish and a guy who looked simply possessed running the ball. He provides the punch up the middle, while Gulley gets around the edge on the outside. This will be a fun combination to watch next year, not just because of their production on the field, but because of their close relationship off the field. Rome talked all season about how tight of a unit the SU backfield was. Although next year’s RB corps will be a crowded one, there will be two leaders commanding the charge.

  • Scott Shafer owns Geno Smith

The defensive coordinator will be haunting Geno’s nightmares forever. Despite WVU knowing the pressure would be coming from SU’s modified Okie package, the Orange still forced two safeties and shut down the Mountaineers’ ground game (2.9 yards a carry). If Doug Marrone ever did leave, could Scott Shafer be the obvious replacement?

SU sacked Smith three times. Two resulted in safeties and the other in a fumble forced by Brandon Sharpe. Because the turf was slick, his receivers didn’t run clean routes. Tavon Austin racked up nearly 1,300 receiving yards this season, but was held to just 2 catches for 21 yards. The tough conditions played to Shafer’s advantage, and he threw extra blitzers at Smith. It’s worked for three straight seasons.

  • SU’s Gameplan Was More Balanced

Everyone knew how terrific both Ryan Nassib and Smith were this past fall. But The Fizz highlighted throughout the week SU had the advantage in the run game if weather was a factor. Syracuse did the opposite of WVU. The Orange grounded and pounded. Marrone said after the win he was 100% positive coming into the game his squad could get it done running or passing. The Orange learned how to adjust. It’s been a theme of the entire season. Whether it was changing to an up-tempo option offense just weeks before the season started, building a passing game around a developing quarterback, or tweaking the gameplan to offset snow, Syracuse defined flexibility. Coach Nate Hackett admitted postgame the plan was to use Prince and Jerome equally on the ground. He told us when he recognized WVU dropping extra DB’s into coverage in the first half, he kicked the run game into another gear. Syracuse’s gameplan was better suited for the weather.

  • These Seniors Will Be Remembered

This was the first four-year group in Marrone’s tenure. Every senior on the roster who didn’t join SU via JuCo was part of the rebuild following Groobers. From a 4-8 record in ’09, to the ’10 Pinstripe, last year’s collapse, and this very sweet cherry on top.

Marrone stressed after the game this year’s team was the closest group he’s ever coached, on and off the field. And it was thanks to the senior class’ leadership and guidance. Deon Goggins and Shamarko Thomas hinted to The Fizz postgame their ’11 late season collapse was because the team was lacking direction. The players were somewhat divided. But the senior class provided that spark in ’12. They wanted to go out winners, and according to Goggins, more importantly, wanted to do it against a bitter rival.

“We Beat West Virginia two years in a row, and they still felt like they were better than us and that we were on the bottom of their shoes. We kind of felt disrespected this week. Even during warm-ups they were talking trash, so we just talked with our pads”

Syracuse could potentially have five seniors drafted in this spring’s NFL draft – Nassib, Shamarko, Alec Lemon, Justin Pugh and Zach Chibane. Nassib and Lemon re-wrote the SU record books this season, and Thomas provided bone crushing hits on a weekly basis. Pugh and Chibane also became two of the most memorable leaders to come through the program. This year’s team had an attitude and it truly showed during SU’s final stretch when it won six of its last seven games.

Posted: Kevin Fitzgerald

19 Comments on this Post

  1. @Kevin Fitzgerald; Another great article Kevin. Dana Holgorsen isn’t the football guru/genius that all of the pundits on ESPN told us he was 3 years ago. I imagine going 0-3 against the Orangemen has given him nightmares that won’t easily be forgotten. I’m real happy for all of the players on this squad and happy for the fact that Smith and Gulley are coming back again next year. They look to be the starters,but I want to stress the point that players like George Morris III need to be added into the equation. He’s that good and shouldn’t be overlooked.
    We all have had growing pains and know how painful they can be. It is going to be interesting to watch Coach Marrone and staff deal with a team loaded with talent and get the players on the field.

    I guess the time spent at Fort Drum in August building the trust/relatioinships/camaraderie that is needed for a winning team has been paid back in full. Going 6-1 over the last 7 games this year is remarkable and winning the Pinstripe Bowl is truly incredible. Not bad for a bunch of no nothing unintelligible players that don’t know how to play the game.

    It’s not only the parting seniors that should be remembered. I feel the 2012 team should be remembered as the team that turned the corner for Syracuse University and starting them down the road to national recognition. People need to look at the improvement with recruiting of players only to realize that the future of the program looks real bright. Who would of thought,Syracuse to the Sugar or Orange Bowls is within reach again for the university?

    Coach Bill Youst(Nate Hackett)along with Coach Herman Boone(Doug Marrone)telling this team “I WANT YOU TO MAKE THEM REMEMBER FOREVER THE NIGHT THEY PLAYED THE TITANS(SYRACUSE). Saturday night our modern day Titans responded to their coaches by beating the daylights out of the West Virginia Mountaineers. It’s a game that shouldn’t be easily or ever forgotten.

    Go Cuse.

  2. Orange FB fan

    Its so weird how my favorite college football and basketball programs have sort of mirrored eachother. Full disclosure, I am a St John’s fan on the Hardwood(not a Cuse bball fan).

    A couple of years ago the Johnnies made the NCAA tourney after a long hiatus and seemed to be making progress in the recruiting game. Then last year they saw a decline due to what some may consider a lack in leadership. The Orange had a nice resurgent season a couple of years ago culminating with a Pinstripe Bowl victory. Then they took a step back last year. The Orange have rebounded this year after some early stumbles and have fans optimistic. The Red Storm have stumbled early on(still above .500) and I wait to see how they close things out.

  3. orangeinva

    Would anyone be surprised if either Jerome Smith or PTG tested the “pro waters”?

  4. Just got back to Florida from a great day in NYC. It was a thrill to watch the Orange beat hell out of West Virgina. Reminded me of back in the day. DM did a very good preparing the kids and they played like they knew why they were there and what they intended to do. It was great to wear my old letter jacket in the cold and snow. Felt like Archbold Stadium in the 60’s.
    Thanks to DM and the coaches and kids….I was a doubter most of the season but they proved me wrong. I like the recruiting classes size and really like the Junior College additions. Tough to replace Nassib but I feel comfortable the ACC knows we’re coming. We’ve upped our game and I hope the ACC Conference ups theirs.
    Very nice 2012 season.. Thanks to the Orange!

  5. Besides the running back tandem, one of the most encouraging things I noticed in the game is that big Shamarko-like hit that Wayne Morgan came up to deliver at the line of scrimmage after Shamarko went out with an injury. That kid is going to be a beast!

    @orangeinva I don’t see either running back trying the pros yet. I doubt they’re even draft candidates, and next year could really raise their stock.

  6. I still have that “feeling” I had 2 years ago after beating KSU!! We’ll see if HCDM/dougie can replace Ryan, Lemon, Pugh and the Shark. These four are the soul of this years team. And you know it. There is no one out there to replace any of these players with the nearly same quality. Sorry, but that’s true!! The QB situation is no where now!! You’ll see how good Ryan really was, no matter what he does in the NFL. I hate being negative, but losing these and many others could make SU look like 2011 all over again. Are you then giving dougie another chance?? Is it DEJA-VU all over again??? Hope not!!

  7. Terry, what the hell are you talking about? Every team loses players. Look at WVU, they are losing their QB, and wide outs 90% of the offense. So wdhats the big deal. Coaches coached and players play. We will see next season. But in the present, this version of Syracuse football was suburb vs anything prior to the 4 years of Marone. Go Cuse!

    To the gentleman from Florida, yes this definitely reminded me of Archbold in the 60’s. Snow, wet, cold, and great football!

  8. That WVU’s Oliver Luck[s z contentious inflated bag of excrement is a well known fact. That we have shoved his words down his throat is also documented I love that its West Virginia that has been the victim of our farewell run in a bowl. Whether we play them again is totally irrelevant to me. Let their fans mellow in their hatred for Syracuse as they have for so many years that its laughable. This emotion from them stems back to the famous Marvin Graves game that the refs let get out of control until Marvin fired a ball back in retaliation for being bashed off the play for the whole game and ignored by the refs

  9. 4orty4our

    @ Terry. How do you know with such conviction that we don’t have the players to step into Pugh, Lemon and Marko’s shoes? That’s a a pretty broad subjective statement. I mean you really didn’t even offer up what guys would step in and be incapable of filling those shoes.

    I think if Pugh does go, we lose a lot of talent on the left side. Sean Hickey replaced Pugh for the first 4 or 5 games of the season and held his own. Hickey was a monster on the right side following the return of Pugh. Not sure if you noticed but 70% of our runs were to the right side where Hickey and Trudo were manhandling WV at the point of attack. I feel comfortable sliding Hickey back over to the left.

    Replacing Lemon is probably the biggest question mark. The only thing that makes Lemon really difficult to replace is he owns the slot. He isnt the fastest, doesn’t run the crispest routes, but he has an innate ability to get open in the slot and luckily, he had 4 years to develop a rapport with Nassib. That amount of time with a QB/WR tandem is unheard of nowadays. Lemon’s production was due to the time him and Nassib had to learn eachother’s nuances. Remember the names Alvin Cornelius and Adrian Flemminng.

    Marko will be very tough to replace, especially with the defections of Dontez Ford and Shu Mungwa. It looks as though Durell Eskridge may be ready to step in, but depth will remain an issue. I like Wayne Morgan’s aggressiveness and think that he would be a better fit at safety rather than corner. The transfer from Pima CC should push for immediate playing time as well.

    Most importantly we need to replace Nassib. Obviously we all know about Zach Allen. We all know about Austin Wilson. What do we have in the program right now that could step up and take the job? I don’t think Charley Loeb has the physical tools to be successful at this level. If our starting QB next year is going to be a returning player, I think Terrell Hunt has to be the favorite. Kinder has never really developed and still has a tough time throwing it. Hunt has the size, 6’3 220lbs, and the arm. The talk has been a lack of accuracy with his throws, but that is something that can ebe corrected over an offseason and spring practice.

    Terry, I think you’re painting a broad negative picture. I understand that we need to be realistic when it comes to replacing the guys you mentioned. However I think that you are premature in saying that we can’t replace these guys. They were all in the program for four years and that is tough to replace, but that’s why we recruit and coach.

    Take a shot of positivity Terry. Things are looking up!

  10. 4orty4our

    @ Terry. Also, you say you hate being negative. We just trounced WV in a bowl game, and for the third time in three years. If all you can muster is a negative comment and a paranoid statement about next years players, then maybe you just aren’t a fan. When there are nothing but positives and healthy question marks surrounding this team and all you can do is talk about potential negatives, it may be time to find a new team.

    Why follow something that brings down your mood?

  11. I don’t think we need to rely as heavily on the passing game next season now that we have a monster running game that has emerged.

    It’s an interesting decision at the QB spot, because you can go with a well groomed guy like Loeb who knows the offense cold, or you can start grooming a young player like Allen to prepare him for 3 more successful seasons.

    Btw, our running game isn’t going to miss a beat after Smith and PTG are gone either. We have a ridiculous stable of backs, several of which haven’t seen the field. We redshirted Morris, who Wheatley considers the most natural of the backs.

    Let’s not forget that we also have Funderburk, Thompson, Raymond, and a slew of other quality players that haven’t touched turf yet in a game either.

    The future is bright, Terry, you’re just still hiding under a rock! Classic CNY pessimistic attitude refusing to believe that something good might actually be happening with this program.

  12. I was at the game sitting on the West Virginia side. A drunken wvu fan proclaimed to me that I had picked the wrong section to sit in and Syracuse sucks and what a shithole cny was…blah….blah. Naturally I was confused, had she gone to Cuse with me or had she had some other first hand knowledge? Why did she think that the finger lakes, Lake Ontario, thousand islands, the adirondacks are so awful? Turns out she was grossly ill-informed much like the mountaineers game planning!! We are SU and CNY!!!!!

  13. You guys are awesome. Thanks for the responses to Terry,it makes me happy to see other people seeing him for what he is.

    Now he’s complaining about certain players leaving and we don’t have the players to replace them. I guess he hasn’t followed the recruiting this year to see that we have a bunch of TE’s coming in. he forget’s or doesn’t know that we have 6’1″ 310 lb OT’s waiting to get onto the field. Does the name Omari Palmer ring a bell? What about TE Ron Sugar Bear Thompson, WO Quinton Funderburk. Have you forgotten about Laray Smith coming along with Ebenezer and others coming? Everyone needs to watch out for George Morris III. He’s probably the best running back on the team. He will be a monster.

    I don’t even want to begin with the defense for next year. If you all think they were powerful this year,next year they will be twice as strong and is going to be to be something to watch and enjoy.

    But again everyone thanks for all of the positive comments. Lets all hope with the 7 openings in the NFL coaching ranks that happened today, that Coach Marrone decides Syracuse is the place for him to be.

    Everything is smelling like roses for Syracuse. Next year,Syracuse has a possibility of going 11-2 . It’s nice to dream.

    GO CUSE.

  14. Wow the homers can’t stand constructive criticism!! I was so far wrong about PTG. But for years I stuck up for Ryan while you homers and even your man dougie had some issues(fr-egging Paulus and etc) with Ryan too!! Look there is no replacement for RYAN in 2013. Your blind if you think so. NONE at all. 8/9 win season is in doubt with “just” the QB issue. SU’s talent is very limited at that position. Yes every team has to adjust to players leaving. But other top teams just reload and go at it. I’m negative because your boy again did not take a quality QB replacement seriously. Its going to show its ugly head next year. And if I’m right you’ll be hearing my broken record of I told you so. I’m tired of the roller coaster ride HCDM has given the SU fandom to deal with. You homers will still admire him even “IF” its another 2011 like year of broken dreams. If he comes through and pulls off a better year for 2013(he should) then he’s on the right track. But I don’t see that. This years team was way better than any future team in the near future. Remember ACC is next. Those two feelings make me negative and really dougie has to prove me wrong. A .500 record is not golden is it.!! I’m a true SU FB fan that wants the best for his beloved CUSE!! Its more than just GROB the last 10/12 years have sucked and I’m just tired of it. SU deserves better!! SORRY!! HAPPY NEW YEAR RONETTE and all the babblers-I’m almost joined your fraternity!! LOL!!

  15. Over the years keeping loyal to the players that have been loyal to Syracuse,doing what the coaches have asked of them,has become a major building block for the program and the players know that and won’t/doesn’t question it’s validity. THEREFORE let me tell you again,the starting quarterback for 2013 will be Charlie Loeb with John Kinder as the backup. Both Allen and Wilson will get a red shirt season to learn the system and become starters during the 2014 season. Look for John Kinder and Terrell Hunt to either change positions or transfer to another school. Look for Marrone to bring in a couple more quarterbacks during the recruiting of the 2014 class.

    The only other thing that comes to mind is that I’m a little concerned for the starting quarterback in 2014. With both Wilson and Allen wanting to be the starter,could we be seeing a possibility of having both share time leading the team from 2014-2018?

    I’m watching the Clemson/LSU game and I haven’t noticed the Kelly kid playing quarterback for Clemson yet. I wonder if he’s thinking about his decision to go there or not. He probably won’t see any playing time until his senior year. How sad.

  16. @Cuse17 & Bill, I wish that I knew the both of you were at the game on Saturday. We could have had a meeting of the minds and talked some great football.

    I had an incredible time there. The dismantling of WVA was something to watch. I thought the Yankee management Staff that put this game together went above and beyond for the fans. The WVA marching Band pregame show as fantastic,being a member of the 41,000 fans joined together in a moment of silence and paying respect as the 26 names of the people who lost their lives in Newtown Connecticut last week was put on the large screen for all to read. I thought is was great that we had a 7th inning stretch halfway through the 3rd quarter when a member of the NYCFD came out and sang “America the Beautiful”. The weather was great,my son said he thought it was getting warmer. All of the events made for a beautiful night to watch a football game and make you proud that your a Syracuse Fan.

    I thought there were an awful lot of Syracuse fans there Saturday and what a site it was to see. Who says the Syracuse Fans don’t travel? We sure made them look like fools didn’t we?

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