Column - Battle in trenches the difference in WVU’s loss to Syracuse
Published: Monday, October 24, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 24, 2011 00:10
The finger can be pointed in a lot of different directions following No. 24 West Virginia's 49-23 loss at the hands of Syracuse Friday night.
But the biggest thing that stood out to me was the way the Orange dominated WVU in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Many people, myself included, thought the Mountaineer passing attack would have a fairly easy time handling a Syracuse pass defense that came into the game ranked near the worst in the country.
At times, it was able to do that. Receivers were constantly beating SU defensive backs to their spots, and the Mountaineers had a good amount of success passing the ball throughout the game.
Junior quarterback Geno Smith threw for two touchdowns and 338 yards while completing 24 of his 41 pass attempts. While that's not a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination, he was forced to make a lot of bad throws in the game.
Two of those bad throws turned out to be Syracuse interceptions, giving Smith five picks in his last two games against the Orange.
A lot of the troubles Smith – and the Mountaineer offense in general – had Friday night was thanks in part to the way the Orange's defensive front dominated the WVU offensive line.
"They blitz on almost every snap. Even when they didn't blitz, their pass rush was better than our pass blocking," said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "That's what really exposed us ... They were just beating us up."
The Orange got to Smith at will. It seemed like almost every other play, Chandler Jones or another Syracuse pass rusher got into the backfield untouched, forcing Smith to either throw the ball away, make a bad throw or just take a sack.
West Virginia allowed four sacks against Syracuse. It was the most of the season and the first time a WVU quarterback had been sacked that much since Louisville got to Smith four times last season.
It might sound obvious, but in an offense like the Mountaineers have, a lot of the success will be determined by how much time the quarterback has to sit in the pocket and let receivers get open in space.
On the other side, you had Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib.
Nassib, a junior who is notorious for being good at taking what a defense gives him and taking advantage of their mistakes, played great against the Mountaineers.
He was surgical in his approach, completing 75 percent of his passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns.
Much of his success was thanks to the outstanding play of his offensive line, as well as the way the Orange were able to mix its passing game with the ground attack.
"We took a look at the LSU film, and they kind of punched (WVU) in the mouth," said Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh. "We just wanted to go out there and make sure we were physical up front."
And the Orange were able to do just what it wanted against a WVU pass rush that was coming into Friday's game with confidence.
After finishing with seven sacks in its last two games, the Mountaineers not only weren't able to sack Nassib the entire game, but they didn't make any tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Friday obviously wasn't West Virginia's night.
This game is a major setback considering what the Mountaineers had been doing up to this point in the season, but it won't define them.
Or it shouldn't at least, if they can put it behind them and move on to the next week. That's how you find out what a team is really made of.
"It's one of those games that we, as a defense and also as a team, are going to learn from and bounce back," said senior defensive lineman Julian Miller. "Or we could let it hurt us the rest of the season. We're not going to keep our heads down about one game."