NCF Nation: Pinstripe Bowl 2012

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
Let's take a look at three keys for victory for West Virginia in today's New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

1. Limit the long ball. West Virginia has given up 63 completions longer than 20 yards this season, more than any team since Nevada all the way back in 2008. Syracuse's Ryan Nassib is a future NFL player who can sling it and had a huge senior season with 3,619 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine picks. West Virginia is going to give up yards, but it's got to make Syracuse earn them, and the easiest way to do that is to prevent the big ball over the top. Keith Patterson has taken over defensive play-calling duties from Joe DeForest. Will we see a noticeable difference? WVU's bowl hopes likely depend on it.

2. Give Geno Smith some help. There's lots that goes into this, but for me, it comes down to the offensive line. Center Joe Madsen is the unit's best player, but he's academically ineligible. Smith, the nation's leader with 40 touchdown passes, needs time to to make plays. You can provide that time by blocking well, but it gets a whole lot easier when you run the ball well. WVU has been inconsistent in that area, but if it runs the ball well against Syracuse, keeping up in a high-scoring game without turnovers becomes a very reasonable proposition.

3. Keep it simple, y'all. Feed Tavon the rock. No need to get complex. West Virginia has about a million ways to do it, but the more Tavon Austin touches the ball, the better. Ask Oklahoma, which gave up 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards in a crazy night for the star. Austin is still getting some touches at running back, but WVU has got to work to get him the ball. If he gets fewer than 15 touches, West Virginia is not winning this game.

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.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December, 2, 2012
West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5) vs. Syracuse Orange (7-5)

Dec. 29, 3:15 p.m., Bronx, N.Y. (ESPN)

West Virginia take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Bowl matchups love to produce ready-made storylines, and you’ll find plenty of interesting ones in Yankee Stadium on Dec. 29 for the Pinstripe Bowl. West Virginia won’t renew its Backyard Brawl rivalry with Pitt, and it won’t earn a BCS bid that looked possible with a season that began with five consecutive wins, but it will get a chance for redemption.

WVU suffered an embarrassing loss to Syracuse last season on the way to the Big East title, and the Mountaineers will encounter their old buds in the Big East once again in the Bronx. Geno Smith has never beaten the Orange, but he’ll get one last chance in his final game as a Mountaineer.

Smith won’t win the Heisman, but he’ll lead the nation’s No. 8 offense along with Biletnikoff finalist Stedman Bailey and all-purpose superstar Tavon Austin. Austin nearly broke the NCAA record for all-purpose yardage with 572 yards against Oklahoma, highlighted by 344 rushing yards. The Mountaineers made waves in their Orange Bowl blowout win in Year 1 under Dana Holgorsen, but a leaky defense proved to be their downfall in a Big 12 well-stocked with powerful offenses.

Syracuse will offer another test for the WVU defense. The Orange led the Big East in total offense by more than 40 yards per game and boast a 3,500-yard passer in Ryan Nassib and a 1,000-yard rusher in Jerome Smith. Can WVU’s defense get some redemption in its final outing of the season?

Syracuse take by Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: When the Orange started the season 2-4, their bowl prospects looked extremely dim. Though quarterback Ryan Nassib had put up some big numbers, the Orange had a major turnover and penalty problem. Coach Doug Marrone called himself out, saying all the mistakes were on him.

Well, whatever introspection he did -- and whatever he said to his team -- worked.

Syracuse closed the year with five wins in its final six games -- including a surprising 45-26 victory over then-No. 9 Louisville -- to claim a share of its first Big East title since 2004. Here is all you need to know about the dramatic difference in turnover margin.

In the first six games of the season, Syracuse won the turnover battle once -- and won only two games. In the final six games of the season, Syracuse won the turnover battle five times. The Orange won five games. It also is no coincidence that the Syracuse run game got going in the second half of the season--– Jerome Smith had four 100-yard games and finished with 1,000 yards on the season.

Interestingly enough, the brutal nonconference schedule this team played ended up helping it find a way to win at the end of the year. Syracuse started the year with losses to USC, Northwestern and Minnesota. But late in the season, the Orange went on the road and upset Missouri -- truly understanding what it would take to win.

In the end, Nassib led the Big East in passing with a career-high 3,619 yards, tossing 24 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Alec Lemon had a career-high 1,063 yards, and Syracuse ended up with its first 1,000-yard running back and 1,000-yard receiver since Michael Owens and Rob Moore in 1989.