1:30 PM ET, September 4, 2005
Carrier Dome, SYRACUSE, NY
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- What a way to begin a new era of football.
With a new coach, new uniforms, a new field and a near-sellout crowd to greet them, the Syracuse Orange fizzled Sunday, falling 15-7 to Big East rival West Virginia.
Syracuse lost even though its defense forced five turnovers and limited the Mountaineers to one third-down conversion in 14 tries.
Even West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez was at a loss after his fourth straight victory in the series.
"I don't ever remember having five turnovers and still winning the game," Rodriguez said. "Syracuse had a good defensive plan. We were scrambling all day on offense."
So were the Orange, whose new pass-oriented West Coast offense was a big bust before a crowd of 45,418 fans desperate to see something positive after three straight years of mediocrity under former coach Paul Pasqualoni.
It was the largest crowd for a home opener since Central Michigan in 1999, the first home game after the departure of star quarterback Donovan McNabb to the NFL.
This is what orange-clad faithful got.
• Syracuse failed to score any points off the defensive turnovers, was 0-for-15 on third down, managed seven first downs, and was called for 11 penalties for 71 yards.
• Junior quarterback Perry Patterson played the whole game and was 15-for-32 for 85 yards and two interceptions, one of which was returned for West Virginia's only touchdown of the game. Patterson also was sacked three times -- once for a safety -- while losing 33 yards rushing, and Syracuse's longest drive in 17 possessions was 26 yards in the third quarter.
Not much of a welcome for first-year coach Greg Robinson.
"There's a lot of disappointment," said Robinson, who replaced Pasqualoni in January. "The place was wild. It was everything we could have asked for. We didn't get it done. It starts with a rookie head coach, and it looks like it. I'd like to think we'd be better than that."
The Mountaineers found a way to win without star quarterback Rasheed Marshall, the Big East offensive player of the year in 2004. For one game, rookie quarterbacks Adam Bednarik and Pat White sufficed. Bednarik was 14-for-21 for 104 yards and one interception, White went 3-for-6 for 63 yards, and both made big plays, even though the offense only managed two field goals.
"I've never won a game without an offensive touchdown. It was very frustrating to keep driving the ball and have the turnovers," said Bednarik, a sophomore. "But we had to block it out and just focus on coming back."
Less than two minutes after Damien Rhodes scored on a 5-yard run to stake the Orange to a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, Eric Wicks returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown.
"Patterson tries to complete the pass instead of running the ball," Wicks said. "So I was depending on him to throw the pass. It was a big read."
Pat McAfee kicked two field goals to help lead West Virginia back. His first, a 33-yarder late in the third quarter, gave the Mountaineers (1-0) a 10-7 lead. Midway through the fourth, West Virginia added a safety when Ernest Hunter sacked Patterson in the end zone, and McAfee added a 26-yard field goal in the waning moments.
"We have a lot of work to do," Rodriguez said. "But I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty."
It was the first conference game of the newly aligned Big East, which lost Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami to the ACC and picked up Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida. And it wasn't a thriller.
In the lone sustained scoring drive, WVU went 55 yards on 10 plays, with Bednarik's 21-yard pass to Brandon Myles setting up McAfee's decisive field goal with 5:53 left in the third quarter.
West Virginia moved deep into Syracuse territory early in the fourth. Jason Colson caught a 19-yard pass to the 11 but lost his third fumble of the game on the next play.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||1-14||0-15|
|4th Down Conversions||2-2||0-1|
|TD||14:07||DAMIEN RHODES 5 YD RUN (RICKY KRAUTMAN KICK)|
Drive info: 2 plays, 18 yards.
|TD||12:24||ERIC WICKS 31 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (PAT MCAFEE KICK)||7||7|
|FG||5:53||PAT MCAFEE 33 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 55 yards.
|FG||3:26||PAT MCAFEE 26 YD FG|
Drive info: 8 plays, 19 yards.