Pinstripe Bowl 2013: Mountaineers' 5 Keys to Victory over Syracuse
West Virginia and Syracuse, two of the notable Big East Conference defectors, will meet up in Yankee Stadium on Saturday (3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
The old conference rivals both sit at 7-5 overall on the season and will look to send their seniors out on a high note.
The game will feature two prolific quarterbacks—Geno Smith of WVU and Ryan Nassib of Syracuse.
Expect a lot of scoring despite the expected cold weather conditions in the Bronx when these two meet.
Here are five keys to victory for West Virginia against Syracuse.
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West Virginia's defensive success will start and end with applying pressure to Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib.
First, this will help out the WVU defensive backs in their coverage of Alec Lemon and the rest of the Orange receiving corps.
Additionally, pressuring Nassib will cause him to force throws and make mistakes.
Seven of Nassib's nine interceptions on the season came in a Syracuse loss. On the other hand, when he can avoid mistakes, he gives Syracuse a great chance to win.
WVU will need to infiltrate the mind of Nassib and force him in to those game-changing mistakes.
Establish the Run
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It's no secret that West Virginia is much better offensively when it can run the ball successfully.
Outsiders often tab WVU solely as a passing team, but the Mountaineers are by far the most dangerous when they can establish a ground game.
Shawne Alston and Tavon Austin emerged as a dangerous duo in the backfield late in the season once Alston was healthy and Austin began take on more responsibilities as a running back.
Alston brings the power and Austin brings the speed and together they'll need to have a big day against Syracuse. Additionally Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison need to bring their talents to the table as well, catching balls out of the backfield and helping to change the pace from Alston.
If these guys can generate some momentum on the ground, it will open up the passing game for West Virginia, which is the ultimate nightmare for Syracuse.
No Big Plays
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In the secondary, West Virginia must tackle well and avoid allowing explosive plays from Syracuse.
All too often, blown coverages, double routes and missed tackles killed WVU and resulted directly in touchdowns for the opposition.
The Mountaineers must keep the ball in front of them and try to halt the Syracuse drives as quickly as possible.
If the Orange receivers are streaking up and down Yankee Stadium, it will be a long afternoon for the Mountaineers.
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Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are two of the most prolific big-play receivers in all of college football.
Bailey is a dangerous deep threat, while Austin is lethal with the ball in space.
Geno Smith needs to set these two weapons up to do what they do best.
If this duo can account for a number of big plays and scores, West Virginia will be well on its way to victory.
Syracuse may try to key in on one guy or the other, like many teams did against WVU this season. If that happens the open man will need to pick up the brunt of the responsibilities.
It isn't a difficult concept, but if Austin and Bailey have big days, the West Virginia offense will have a big day.
Last Game of the Year, Can't Hold Anything Back
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To quote Dan Fouts from Waterboy, it's the last game of the year, so whatever West Virginia has left in the tank or up its sleeve has to come out against Syracuse.
There's a big difference between a 7-6 and an 8-5 finish, so the Mountaineers need to do whatever they must to win this one and send the seniors off with a victory.
Though it is a pretty abstract idea, the Mountaineers need to play loose and free like they did in games at the beginning and end of the season, rather than uptight like they were during their five-game losing streak.
If Dana Holgorsen and the WVU staff have anything left in their back pocket, it needs to come out at Yankee Stadium.
If all this comes together, WVU should be able to take care of business against Syracuse. However, if the Mountaineers don't come ready to play, the Orange will teach them a lesson, just like they did the last two seasons in Big East Conference play.