Big 12: Jerome Smith

Instant analysis: Syracuse 38, WVU 14

December, 29, 2012

Syracuse beat West Virginia 38-14 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on a snowy Saturday at Yankee Stadium. Here is a quick look at how the game went down:

It was over when: Syracuse absolutely dominated the third quarter, outscoring West Virginia 23-7 to turn a close game at the half into a blowout. The Orange had their way up front, opting to gash the Mountaineers on the ground for nearly 400 total yards. They harassed Geno Smith for the entire game, forcing him into two safeties and a fumble that they converted into a touchdown. And they completely shut down electric all-purpose player Tavon Austin, who was a non-factor all game.

Game ball goes to: Prince-Tyson Gulley. Both he and Jerome Smith are deserving of recognition, as they each went over 100 yards on the ground. But Gulley was better, ripping off huge chunks of yards every time he got the ball in the best game of his career, finishing with 213 yards. He ended up with three total touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) -- including a 67-yard run that was the longest of the season for the Orange.

Stat of the game: 0-for-10. A big reason why the Mountaineers could not sustain any drives? They could not convert on third down. And because they could not convert on third down, they were held to well below their season average in total plays. The Mountaineers went into the game averaging 78 plays. They ran 59 against the Orange.

What it means for West Virginia: Smith ends his career without a win over Syracuse, going 0-3. As the game went on, his frustration grew as he was taken out of his rhythm once again against a physical, aggressive defense. Now you have to wonder if he hurt his draft stock with his performance in this game. West Virginia also saw the last of Austin and Stedman Bailey, who did his part with two touchdown receptions. But the Mountaineers close the season at 7-6, a disappointing finish to their first season in the Big 12.

What it means for Syracuse: The Orange end their final season in the Big East with wins in six of their final seven games and yet another triumphant performance against their rivals. Though this was the final game for record-setting players like Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon, the running game certainly appears to be in great hands headed into the ACC next season. Keep an eye on offensive tackle Justin Pugh, who has a decision to make about whether or not to leave school early for the NFL draft.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl keys

December, 29, 2012
Here are three keys for Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl:

1. Establish the run. What better way for Syracuse to keep West Virginia off the field than with its running game? It has been outstanding in the latter half of the season. Syracuse averaged 127.5 yards on the ground in the first six games of the year. In the last six games? The Orange averaged 216.2 yards rushing. It is no coincidence that Syracuse went 5-1 in its final six games, then. The bulk of the carries should go to Jerome Smith, who hit 1,000 yards this season, and Prince-Tyson Gulley as Adonis Ameen-Moore is serving a suspension for this game.

2. Get after Geno Smith. Syracuse has done a terrific job harassing Smith in the past two games the teams played, both Orange victories. They were so successful, in fact, that a Big 12 reporter got on the Big East coaches' call earlier this year and asked Syracuse coach Doug Marrone how they were able to slow down Smith so effectively. Marrone politely declined to answer at the time. But there is no doubt the game plan is going to remain the same going into this game. Containing Smith takes away a large part of what the Mountaineers do on offense.

3. Lock down Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Easier said than done, right? Austin and Bailey were outstanding once again this season -- Austin finished No. 2 in the nation in all-purpose yards with 2,760, and Bailey led the nation with 23 receiving touchdowns and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. Syracuse has had its share of problems on special teams, particularly on covering punts, so this is going to have to be a major point of emphasis to make sure Austin doesn't burn the Orange there. Syracuse cornerbacks Keon Lyn and Ri'Shard Anderson are going to have their hands full, but you can bet Syracuse also will rely on the sure-handed tackling of Shamarko Thomas to help wrap these guys up so they can contain yards after the catch.

Pregame: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December, 29, 2012
West Virginia (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) versus Syracuse (7-5, 5-2 Big East):

WHO TO WATCH: Stedman Bailey. Hard to pick just one of the West Virginia trio on offense that has shattered just about every school record. Geno Smith and Tavon Austin are just as worthy of selection. So are Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon for Syracuse. But I went with Bailey for a variety of reasons. First, he had an incredible season, leading the nation with 23 touchdown receptions. Second, this is his last game after declaring early for the NFL draft, a perfect opportunity to showcase his talents for everybody to see. And third, he was just about the only West Virginia player to have any success against Syracuse last season, with seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.

WHAT TO WATCH: Geno Smith versus Syracuse's front. This is the biggest matchup to watch in the game, and it is not even really that close. Syracuse beat West Virginia the past two years in large part because its defensive front found a way to harass Smith. In those two victories, Syracuse combined to sack Smith nine times and force him into five interceptions. Chandler Jones was particularly impressive in both of those games. He is gone, and you can bet Syracuse will be turning its focus to Brandon Sharpe as a rush end in this game. Now, by all measures, Smith was a more complete quarterback this season than the past two years, as he threw a whopping 40 touchdown passes. But five of his six interceptions came in losses, so the game plan for Syracuse should remain the same as the previous two years -- make Smith as uncomfortable as possible.

WHY WATCH: This game is being billed as potentially having plenty of offensive fireworks, as both teams average more than 470 yards per game. Plus, they are longtime Big East rivals. Before 2012, Syracuse and West Virginia had met annually since 1955 and played for the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy when it was established in 1993. Although the trophy is not going to be on the line in this game, West Virginia will try to beat the Orange for the first time since 2009. One more thing to keep an eye on -- the weather. Snow is expected in New York on Saturday, so that could radically alter game plans and force both teams to rely more on their ground games. Jerome Smith and Andrew Buie (or even Shawne Alston) could end up with big days.

PREDICTION: Syracuse 45, West Virginia 44.

A closer look: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December, 13, 2012
As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.


West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)

Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.

When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 3:15 p.m. ET


About West Virginia: West Virginia's season began like a dream. There was the top-5 ranking, the road win over Big 12 power Texas and the 5-0 start with quarterback Geno Smith atop everyone's Heisman ballots. Then came the nightmare in the form of a five-game losing streak, something the majority of the roster had never experienced, certainly not in college and likely not at any other level of football. The defense ranks just 111th nationally and clearly struggled in a Big 12 well-stocked with high-powered offenses. West Virginia's got one of its own, but a few rough games got the losing streak started, and the Mountaineers couldn't end it until they faced the Big 12's two worst teams to close the season, Iowa State and Kansas. It's been awhile since WVU had a résumé-boosting win, but for my money, beating Syracuse in the last game of the season would count.

About Syracuse: The Orange rallied late this season after a 2-4 start to win five of their final six games, and just like they did to WVU last year, Syracuse busted up the Orange Bowl-bound, Big East champions. This time around, it was Louisville, but Syracuse knocked off the Cardinals by 19 points. That final stretch, including a road win at Missouri to bring the Big East to 3-0 against the SEC this season, landed Syracuse in an in-state bowl game against its old rivals in the Big East. Syracuse knocked off Kansas State in this game two years ago. This should be another great rendition of the fledgling bowl.

Mountaineers to watch: We'll get to the high-octane offense in a bit, but West Virginia already shook up its defensive staff. Will we see a difference after the 15 bowl practices with Keith Patterson in charge of the defense and cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts gone? If we do, expect it to start with freshman phenom Karl Joseph at safety. On offense, expect the same old drill. Tavon Austin is probably the most talented player on the roster, and certainly its most electrifying, but the offense runs around quarterback Geno Smith. If the Mountaineers get inside the red zone, Syracuse might want to try to cover Stedman Bailey. The receiver has caught 23 touchdowns, seven more than any player in the country and more than 70 teams in college football.

Orange to watch: No doubt about it, Syracuse will challenge West Virginia's offense just as much as a lot of Big 12 offenses. Quarterback Ryan Nassib is one of the nation's best with an NFL future. The Orange boast a 3,000-yard passer in Nassib, a 1,000-yard rusher in Jerome Smith and a 1,000-yard receiver in Alec Lemon. That kind of balance is always difficult to match up with, and West Virginia will surely have to score a load of points to keep up with the Orange.

Did you know? Syracuse raised a stink when it announced it would not put the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy up for grabs in this rivalry game, but the Big 12 needs a break in this game. The three-year-old game has been won by the Big East each season. Last year, Rutgers beat Iowa State. In the previous season, Kansas State lost to Syracuse after a controversial flag. Another ominous note for the Big 12? Syracuse is 6-1 all-time at Yankee Stadium. West Virginia is 3-1, but hasn't played there since 1947, when it beat NYU.