This week’s West Virginia game against Syracuse may prove to be an interesting contest to watch.
One of the keys to this game will obviously be West Virginia’s ability to control the football. The Mountaineer’s turnover woes have already been well documented, in this column and many others.
The past few years, West Virginia has shown themselves to be a team that is rarely is beaten on the gridiron; but they have become quite adept at occasionally losing the game themselves.
So far this season, the Mountaineers have played like they are trying to practice the Lord’s saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
West Virginia is the only Division I football team that has failed to recover a fumble all year.
Early on this season, WVU was plagued by fumbled punts. That was corrected, only to then experience a difficulty with interceptions against Auburn. The Mountaineers eliminated the interceptions last week, only to be bitten by first-half fumbles against Colorado.
Breaking that curse is another key to this game, with the continued dominance of West Virginia running back, Noel Devine.
Despite their speed and talent on defense, Auburn showed absolutely no ability to consistently stop him in two seasons. And despite an early Mountaineer lead, Devine was clearly under-utilized in that football game.
But against Colorado in the second half, Coach Bill Stewart and the Mountaineers chose to saddle him up, climb aboard, and ride him to victory over the Buffs.
Should West Virginia return to their fumbling ways in the Carrier Dome, then Devine may be called upon to do the same thing this weekend.
Another key to this game may come down to experience, or Syracuse’s lack of it.
For a program looking for anything to right their sinking ship, the change in coaches and the addition of Greg Paulus at quarterback has given the Syracuse Orangemen a definitely-needed lift.
But although Paulus may be a gifted college athlete, he is relatively-inexperienced quarterback at this level. Duke’s former point guard on the hardwood is a gunslinger on the gridiron. His flashes of brilliance are also accompanied with occasional bad decisions.
However, his maturity as an athlete allows him to effectively get past those mistakes, unlike a freshman quarterback who was thrust into Paulus’ position.
In addition, Paulus will be facing Jeff Casteel’s unique 3-3-5 defense, a scheme that has given fits to Oklahoma, Georgia, and several other excellent football teams the past few seasons.
The Mountaineers’ ability to bring pressure from many different looks will give Paulus fits in this game. Moreover, I expect him to throw at least one crucial interception, due to his confusion over defensive reads.
Another key to this game may be West Virginia’s best-kept secret, their punter.
Following last year’s graduation of current Colts’ punter, Scott McAfee, there were some early questions going into this season about the Mountaineers’ punting game. Averaging 48.2 yards a kick, senior Scott Kozlowski has successfully answered all of those questions.
The young man would be one of nation’s leaders in the position, except he is a few punts shy of qualifying.
When West Virginia stalls on defense, Kozlowski is often able to turn this negative into a positive with his booming changes in field position.
After these many years of misery, I am happy to finally see some life out of this once-proud Syracuse football program. It has been a long time in coming!
I fully expect West Virginia to prevail in this contest, the first Big East Conference game on their 2009 schedule. However, playing on the road against a team that is renaming their stadium after Syracuse great, the late Ernie Davis, I expect the crowd’s enthusiasm to make the final score much closer than many expect.
Clearly, West Virginia has the talent to be one of the best teams in the country. However, if they are ever to break out, then they first must stop breaking up.
That transformation should start this weekend with a squeezing of the Orangemen