Flashing back to the sore subject of last season’s 49-23 loss at Syracuse, still something on par with a posttraumatic stress event for West Virginia’s coaches, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson outlined the numerous causes.
But after several minutes dissecting sloppy execution and overly ambitious play-calling, he simplified the explanation: “Some games you just get your ass whipped.”
That remains the takeaway from the ambush at the Carrier Dome, by far the outlier of West Virginia’s 2011 season. The Mountaineers entered that game with a 5-1 record and fresh off a 43-16 win over UConn.
“Everybody needs to get struck back to reality at some point,” Dawson said. “We probably thought we were a little bit hotter than we were. And we got struck back to reality real quick.”
WVU trailed only 21-16 in the third quarter before Syracuse reeled off 21 unanswered points. The Orange converted 12-of-17 third downs, and scored on all five red-zone opportunities. Ryan Nassib threw for four touchdowns, crisply executing play-action passes. West Virginia couldn’t keep pace, with Geno Smith suffering four sacks.
“We went out in the second half and three or four possessions in a row we gave up negative yardage early in the drive,” Dawson recalled. “We got greedy and were trying to go down the field in situations where we really didn’t have to. We didn’t execute simple stuff.”
PINSTRIPE BOWL: West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)Dec. 29
DATE: Dec. 29 at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, N.Y.
TIME: 3:15 p.m. Eastern TELEVISION: ESPN
Nassib, third in Big East career touchdown passes behind Miami’s Ken Dorsey and Syracuse’s Donovan McNabb, has continued his development as a senior by throwing for 3,619 yards (10th nationally). He rallied the Orange to road wins over USF and Missouri, giving him nine fourth-quarter comebacks in his career. Nassib will cap his college career by facing the WVU defense, infamously weak against the pass this season, in the Pinstripe Bowl.
“They have everybody back on offense,” said Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen. “That quarterback (Nassib) just keeps getting better and better. He has worked his way up, much like Geno, to where he is going to be a top draft pick and play at the next level.”
As for his own quarterback, Holgorsen says the beating Smith absorbed last season was partly a result of not properly recognizing the Orange’s multiple blitz packages.
“They’re very much a dial-up-a-defense kind of team, so you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Holgorsen said. “Seventeen of the first 18 blitzes last year were different, so we have to identify that and get in the right play. (Smith) has matured a bunch, and from a scheme standpoint, he is going to be able to see that and make some pretty good checks; I feel comfortable about that.”