The West Virginia Mountaineers will continue their quest for a Big East championship this Saturday when they take on the Syracuse Orange.
West Virginia has bounced back nicely following its Week 4 loss to LSU with two straight victories, including a dominant 43-16 win over last year’s Big East Champions Connecticut two weeks ago.
Quarterback Geno Smith has been leading a dynamic passing attack all season long. After a few hiccups early in the season, the defense has come on strong in the last two weeks, giving up just 26 points.
The Orange have been a bit of a surprise this season, with a 4-2 record thus far. Things will get more difficult for this team as conference play kicks into gear. Still, it is playing well and could make a run at another bowl game if it can win two more games.
Where: Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York
When: Friday, Oct. 21 at 8:00 p.m. EDT
Watch: ESPN & ESPN3.com
Listen: WVAQ-FM 101.9, WAJR-AM 1440 (West Virginia); 970 AM The Apple, WTKW 99.5 FM (Syracuse)
Betting Line: West Virginia (-14)
Mountaineers’ Injury Report
Out: Doug Rigg, LB (Wrist), Josh Jenkins, OL (Knee)
Questionable: Andrew Buie, RB (Collarbone)
Orange Injury Report
Out: Prince-Tyson Gulley, RB (Collarbone), Sean Hickey, T (Knee)
Questionable: Shamarko Thomas, S (Hamstring), Olando Fisher, S (Back), Chandler Jones, DE (Lower Body), Ian Allport, C (Concussion), Nick Lepak, G (Concussion)
Key Storyline To Watch: Is West Virginia Going To Have Any Competition In The Big East?
The Big East gets made fun of because there are no elite teams in the conference, yet there is a team that is guaranteed a spot in the BCS because of the monopoly that the conference presidents have created.
West Virginia started the season as the only ranked team in the Big East, and six games into the season, the Mountaineers remain the only Top 25 program.
They do have some competition at the top of the conference rankings with Cincinnati and Rutgers. Those two teams are likely to drop off when they face higher-quality competition, so the Mountaineers can cruise to another Big East title.
First things first, they must take care of Syracuse this week.
BCS/Top 25 Poll Implications
The Mountaineers are ranked 15th in the BCS right now, but there is a substantial drop between No. 14 South Carolina (.4914 average) and them (.3730). They will need to keep winning and get a lot of help from outside sources if they want to have a chance at the National Championship.
Odds are against that happening, but they are still the odds-on favorite to win the Big East, which guarantees them an automatic spot in the BCS.
Despite their fast start, the Orange are on the outside looking in at the Top 25 and BCS. With two losses already, including one in-conference, it will take a small miracle for them to make it to a big bowl game. If they win this game, they will merit serious consideration for the AP and Coaches Polls next week.
What They Are Saying
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen is concerned about last week’s bye and how it could disrupt the timing of the offense.
“You can lose it really quick. If you take a couple of weeks off, you’re back where you started. That’s the reality of throwing the ball and maintaining how fast you run your routes and knowing when the ball needs to come out of your hands. The timing from an offensive perspective is critical, and if you do take too many days off, then you’re going to lose it, and you’ve got to start over. Our goal is to not lose it this week.”
That is a valid concern considering how well the Orange defense played against Geno Smith last season, so expect a tough week of practices in order to avoid a letdown this season.
West Virginia Player To Watch: Dustin Garrison, RB
Let’s be honest, this team is going to go as far as Geno Smith takes it. But in order for this team to compete against the best teams in the country, of which it would like to be included, the running game has to get better.
Dustin Garrison has been featured more in this offense over the last three games and will likely be given the ball a lot in this game to establish the run and take pressure off Smith.
Garrison has proven that he can handle it with 417 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games.
Syracuse Player To Watch: Ryan Nassib, QB
As clichéd as it is to say, if the quarterback plays well, the team wins the game. Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib’s worst game of the season came three weeks ago against Rutgers—he threw three interceptions on 15-for-32 passing—and the Orange lost the game 19-16.
Nassib is not the most dynamic quarterback in the country, but he is a solid game manager. He will have to be more than that to keep up with Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense this week.
Key Matchup: West Virginia Offensive Line vs. Syracuse Defensive Line
When these two teams met last season, it was Syracuse's defensive line that completely overwhelmed Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense. Smith was forced into throwing three interceptions and got sacked five times.
If the Orange can do that again, they will upset the Mountaineers for the second consecutive season. But if they don't, this game will get ugly in a hurry. Smith wants revenge for the beating he took last year, so he will have a little extra spring in his step this time around.
Syracuse will not be able to catch lightning in a bottle two straight years. The Mountaineers are the superior team and will prove it in this game.
West Virginia 48, Syracuse 24