New York, NY (Sports Network) - Once combatants in the Big East Conference,
the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Syracuse Orange now find themselves
facing off against each other in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium
on Saturday, Dec. 29.
The Mountaineers, under Dana Holgorsen who is now in his second season with
the program, are one of the teams that has recently made the move out of the
Big East Conference and now participates as a member of the Big 12. Early on
this season the team destined for record-breaking greatness as it ran off five
straight wins by averaging an astounding 52.0 ppg, but at the same time giving
up 35.0 ppg.
However, after that successful early run the Mountaineers began to show cracks
in the armor, putting up only two touchdowns against both Texas Tech and
Kansas State in a span of seven days as they were outscored by a margin of
West Virginia ended up dropping five straight contests, all in conference,
before taking out Iowa State and Kansas in order to finish the regular season
with a record of 7-5, but just 4-5 in league play.
As for Syracuse, which is slated to make the jump to the ACC in 2013, the team
appeared to be headed for a very disappointing campaign as it lost three of
the first four games, the lone win in that span being a 28-17 triumph over
Stony Brook. However, the Orange were able to get on track, beginning with a
14-13 victory against rival Pittsburgh in early October, and then, with a
40-10 rout of UConn, rattled off five wins in the last six games on the
schedule. The strong finish gave the Orange a 7-5 record overall and a mark of
5-2 versus the rest of the Big East, putting them in a four-way tie for first
place in the league standings, but relegated to a non-BCS bowl due to tie-
breakers. Nevertheless, head coach Doug Marrone is still happy that the season
has one more game to be played.
"We are thrilled to be invited to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for the second
time in three years...It means a great deal to us to play a bowl game in
Yankee Stadium where many of our alumni and fans will have the opportunity to
share it with us. New York State is the foundation of our program. I am proud
of this team for the way it fought through early-season adversity to win five
of the last six games and win a share of the Big East championship. It is
great for our team, and particularly our seniors, to have the chance to play
one more game. This senior class has given so much to our program on and off
the field and will be great ambassadors for our program and University."
Now in just its third year, this postseason event hosted Syracuse once before
in 2010 when the team held off Kansas State for a 36-34 triumph. The Orange,
who missed out on a bowl last year, have a postseason history that dates back
to a 61-6 blowout loss to Alabama in the 1953 Orange Bowl.
Syracuse has won three of the last four postseason outings and has an all-time
mark of 13-9-1 following the regular season.
As for the Mountaineers, they had lost back-to-back bowl outings to Florida
State and NC State in the Gator and Champs Sports Bowls, respectively, before
blowing the doors off Clemson in a staggering 70-33 victory in the 2012 Orange
Bowl. West Virginia, which began postseason life with a 21-13 triumph versus
Gonzaga in the 1922 Christmas Classic, now has a record of 14-17 in bowl
In terms of the all-time series between these squads, Syracuse owns a 32-27
advantage thanks to a 49-23 triumph in the most recent meeting last season in
the Carrier Dome. In that matchup, Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib converted
24-of-32 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns to lead the home team to
Since that big win over WVU in 2011, Nassib has only gotten stronger for
Syracuse. The only one to take snaps for the program this season, Nassib set a
single-season program record by throwing for 3,619 yards, adding 24 touchdowns
against just nine interceptions as he completed better than 63 percent of his
attempts for more than 300 ypg.
Nassib, who holds every single-season and career passing record (except career
TD passes) in Syracuse history, including most completions and yards, is now
on everyone's radar which will make getting passes to Alec Lemon (70 catches,
1,063 yards, seven TDs) and Marcus Sales (63, 863, eight) slightly more
difficult even though WVU is by no means known for its defensive prowess.
The Mountaineers will also have to keep tabs on Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson
Gulley coming out of the backfield after the pair combined for close to 1,700
yards and 10 TDs on the ground.
In terms of the Syracuse defense, the team ranked first in the conference and
10th nationally in tackles for loss with an average of 7.5 per contest. Taking
the lead in that department was Brandon Sharpe who made more than one-third of
his 35 total stops in the backfield, accounting for a team-best six sacks
along the way as well. Dyshawn Davis was just one-half TFL behind Sharpe as he
registered 13 in his 12 appearances.
Top-tackler Shamarko Thomas (84 stops), was credited with both a pair of
interceptions and three forced fumbles for a team that had trouble forcing
turnovers in 2012.
The Orange defense will have its hands full trying to slow down the likes of
Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin each of whom has displayed the
uncanny ability to produce massive stats this season.
Smith, who was thought to be on his way to a Heisman-type season, has been a
numbers machine for the Mountaineers in 2012, at one point throwing for an
incredible 687 yards in a single game against Baylor in late September and yet
WVU survived by just seven points. Smith, ranked sixth in the country in total
offense with 346.6 ypg, owns seven of the program's 11 400-yard passing games
in history, including the top five positions.
However, Smith could not have gotten the job done without the services of
Bailey and Austin who together own the top three receiving games in school
history, all this season. In the meeting with Baylor, Bailey stepped up with
13 catches for 303 yards. In that same Baylor battle, Austin caught 14 balls
for 215 yards as well.
Austin, who also carried the ball 61 times this season for another 598 yards
and three TDs, finished with 110 receptions for 1,259 yards and 12 scores
through the air, while Bailey turned his 106 grabs into 1,501 yards and a
staggering 23 TDs. Both players were named All-Americans, Austin making the
First Team as an all-purpose performer and Bailey to the second team as a
Unfortunately, this outing appears to be the last for the trio representing
Morgantown with Bailey, a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, announcing his
intention to enter the NFL Draft following the season.
"I kind of weighed out all of my options, sat down with my family, sat down
with Coach (Dana) Holgorsen and we all came to the conclusion that this was
the best decision for me," said Bailey.
If you were looking for positives on the defensive side of the ball for the
Mountaineers, those are few and far between. The unit ranked 119th in the
country in passing yards allowed (327.1 ypg) and 114th in points given up
(38.1 ppg). Obviously, much of that had to do with the fact that the WVU
offense was always moving the ball down the field and putting points on the
board, bringing a weary defensive unit back out for action, but there's also
something to be said for the number of underclassmen that were asked to play a
pivotal role in 2012 as well.
One of the only bright spots for the group was Josh Francis who finished fifth
on the team in tackles (52) and first with 15.0 TFLs and 4.5 sacks.
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