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