West Virginia heads to the dome looking for revenge. The Mountaineers were embarrassed at home last season by a pesky, upstart Syracuse team that ended up having an outstanding season. Now, the Mountaineers look to grab the Schwartzwalder Trophy back in what could be a dying rivalry.
West Virginia: Geno Smith continues to have a dynamic year. He now has over 2,100 yards passing, with 16 touchdowns and just three picks. He is also showing very good leadership on the field, keeping the tempo up when needed. His lead trio of receivers may be the best trio in the country. And Stedman Bailey is on pace to destroy WVU records. Bailey has gone for over a 100 yards receiving in four consecutive games. The Syracuse secondary is going to have their hands full all night long with this group. Look for WVU to go at least six receivers deep, with Brad Starks potentially being a deep threat once again. The rushing game continues to grow with Dustin Garrison, who is averaging 6.9 a carry. Shawne Alston will be used on short yardage, and the rest of the freshmen could be in the mix. The offensive live took a bit of a step back against Connecticut, so we'll see how they come out tonight. They will be in a battle against a very good Syracuse front. Look for a steady dose of Garrison early. If the Mountaineers can establish the run, it could be a long night for the Orange. The last thing they need is the field to open up for Geno.
Syracuse: Ryan Nassib has had an efficient season. His numbers would look even better if it weren't for some serious drops from his receivers. The gunslinger has 11 touchdowns to his name, and is playing at a solid level right now. Look for him to go towards Nick Provo and Alec Lemon often tonight. Provo will be a tough matchup for WVU. Lemon, along with his other wideouts need to hold onto the football. They can't leave any opportunities on the field. After a slow start to the season, Antwon Bailey has fired it back up. He is averaging 4.5 a carry, and has good history against the Mountaineers. The offensive line will be dealing with a lot. They need to create rushing lanes, while dealing with a good front six. They will also have to protect Nassib a lot more than they have. It may be tough to give their quarterback a lot of time to look down the field.
West Virginia: The defense continues to improve. The pass rush has awoken, following a very solid game against Connecticut. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller are starting to break the double teams and allowing the linebackers to stay in coverage. Look for more of the same. If the line can create their own push, then look for WVU lock up in coverage. Nick Provo will be a tough matchup, so look for both the safeties and Najee Goode to have a crack at him. Keith Tandy and Pat Miller will have a tough job on the outside, so they are going to have to earn their stripes. The Mountaineers may give up some yardage, but don't be surprised if they lock down when it matters to keep Cuse out of the endzone. WVU has not allowed a defensive touchdown in three gaes this season.
Syracuse: The big news is Chandler Jones will be back on the line. This will help the rush, as well as slowing down WVU's running attack. It will be extremely important for the pass rush to be effective. If Geno Smith has time to sit back and find receivers, it could be a long game. The Orange secondary got torched by Tulane last game, imagine what WVU might be able to do. It will be interesting to see what Syracuse's strategy will be. Last year, a lot of pressure melted Geno down. However, this unit is a bit younger than 2010, especially at the linebacking position. The Orange should still try to bring the pressure, and see if they can create a few mistakes.
West Virginia: This is where I usually trash this unit. However, they are coming off their best game in about five years. The punting was fantastic. Mike Molinari is averaging over 43 yards a punt, and has taken the job from Corey Smith. The placekicking remains solid. The kick return is perfectly fine. But, the big story is the kick coverage. There was actually kick coverage last game. We haven't seen kick coverage since Bill Clinton was in office, until now. Now, can it continue? That's the question.
Syracuse: It's a good unit. Ross Krautman is one of the better kickers in the conference. The punting game is adequate. The kick coverage is deep, and they use some pretty good kick returners in Dorian Graham and Jeremiah Kobena. This unit has been much more consistent than WVU's. It will be interesting to see if they can exploit that.
The Mountaineers will find open receivers all night, but can they finish drives and hold on to the football? This is only the second road game this season for WVU, and the dome can be a tough place to play. However, the Mountaineers should have enough success on both sides of the ball to take an insurmountable lead late. The Orange have very little margin for error, and that just doesn't bode well for a team that has struggle to put four quarters together.