We are less than two weeks away from Syracuse’s clash with West Virginia in Orlando. It’s ACC vs. Big 12 even though it used to be a Big East matchup, and it’s a fascinating bowl scenario. The Mountaineers are just 1.5-point favorites at Bookmaker, check their review for more info on them.
Syracuse leads the all-time series against West Virginia 33-27. After a stint from ’02 to ’09 when the Mountaineers won eight straight, the last three meetings have all gone in favor of the Orange. That said, the last time these two teams met was back in ’12 in the Pinstripe Bowl.
We all know what kind of magical year this has been for SU. It’s been a mentally tough Syracuse team this season. The #20 Orange almost followed up last year’s shocker with another big upset over Clemson. A beating at the hands of the #3 Fighting Irish and a tough overtime loss to Pitt were the only other losses this season. The Orange have one of the most balanced offenses in all of college football. It will be a serious test for the Mountaineers and its questionable 60th ranked defense. Play calling on the attack will be critical for Dino Babers and Mike Lynch. Keeping WVU off-balance is their key to victory on this one.
The Orange have a solid group of running backs and with Eric Dungey in the mix, they average 206.42 rushing yards per game. Their balanced attack (46% rushing, 54% passing) has allowed them to keep opponents off balance, especially in the red zone, where they get points 87.10% of the time. Their losses have come against teams that have been able to shut down the run. Clemson stopped the ground attack, and Notre Dame kept the numbers around the 150-mark. WVU is decent at stopping the run, but they are no Clemson. So we should see the Orange push the ball up the gut a lot to soften the Mountaineers up for the passing game.
The Mountaineers allow around 255 passing yards per contest. With Dungey and company putting up 260 yards per game through the air, SU should be able to take advantage. On the opposite side, West Virginia is a passing powerhouse. They drop an average of 358 yards per game through the air on their enemies, but no Will Grier as he prepares for the NFL Draft. Critically, their third-ranked passing game will be pitted against the Orange 31st ranked passing defense.
Looking at the numbers might seem a bit scary for Orange fans, but here’s the thing. You know what is coming. They are going to pass the ball even without Grier. So instead of trying to go man-to-man and match speed with high-octane WVU receivers, Syracuse should run softer zones to give up small yardage in lieu of getting burned. Let them nickel and dime down the field. Because WVU is so reliant on the pass, they tend to run out of room once they get into the red zone.
The Mountaineers are 79.5% in red zone efficiency. If the Orange tighten up their 77.78% red zone defense, they can get a critical stop or force a field goal instead of a touchdown and swing the possessions in SU’s favor. It may seem counterintuitive to willingly give up yards, but the main factor will be not letting the Mountaineers hit big passes that get taken to the house. Quick scores can kill the Orange. If they keep the WVU offense contained just enough to make them play the short field closer to the endzone, Syracuse can outscore them.
It’s going to be a tight game. But the Orange will win if they don’t get housed multiple times through the air.