In the Big Apple, West Virginia laid a big egg against an old rival from the Big East.
Syracuse played power football on the snow-frosted field at Yankee Stadium, burying WVU 38-14 at the Pinstripe Bowl. Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for a career-high 208 yards and Jerome Smith added 157 as the Orange (8-5) ran for 369 total, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
“Our lineman came out to play. They opened up a lot of good holes and made it easy for me and Jerome to pick where we were going.” – Syracuse running back Prince-Tyson Gulley.
WVU (7-6), which closed the regular season with a modest two-game winning streak, couldn’t carry that momentum into the postseason. In his final college game, Geno Smith threw two touchdowns to Stedman Bailey, but he was sacked twice for safeties, lost a fumble on a blind-side hit in Syracuse territory and threw for just 197 yards on 16-of-24 passing.
“It hurts to lose,” Smith said. “I wanted to win this one, especially for the 21 seniors who battled with me for four years, but unfortunately we didn’t get the job done.”
Syracuse senior Ryan Nassib, Smith’s counterpart in what was billed as a passing shootout, finished only 12-of-24 for 127 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. But he didn’t need his best day with the Orange’s running game eclipsing 300 yards for the first time in seven seasons.
“No one ran it on us all year long, so I was shocked that they were able to line it up and run it straight at us,” said West Virginia’s newly promoted defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “It’s kind of hard to explain.
“We were trying to sink a safety down in the box. There was times we’d fit up air-tight and the next thing you know, they split us. I’m sitting there kind of perplexed, because honestly I thought we’d be able to stop them from running the football.”
The Orange ran 90 plays to WVU’s 61, winning their third straight over the Mountaineers, who netted only 88 yards on 37 carries.
“The seniors, especially, we wanted to come out here and get into a fist-fight with them,” said WVU’s Jeff Braun, who moved from guard to center last week following the academic suspension of fellow senior Joe Madsen. “We knew it was going to be a tough, physical game. We just weren’t on the right side of it.”
Syracuse opened the second half with an 80-yard drive, going up 19-7 on Nassib’s 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Beckett Wales. (Read more about this and other decisive plays here.)
Gulley helped the Orange stretch the cushion with a 67-yard touchdown run and a 9-yard scoring catch.
“Our lineman came out to play,” said Gulley, who became the Orange’s first 200-yard rusher since 2004. “They opened up a lot of good holes and made it easy for me and Jerome to pick where we were going.”
“No one ran it on us all year long, so I was shocked that they were able to line it up and run it straight at us. … I’m sitting there kind of perplexed, because honestly I thought we’d be able to stop them from running the football.” — West Virginia’s newly promoted defensive coordinator Keith Patterson
After five scoreless possessions, West Virginia’s offense generated some momentum late in the second quarter. Bailey’s rugged 32-yard catch-and-run capped a six-play, 69-yard drive that drew the Mountaineers to within 12-7.
WVU’s defense made an atypical goal-line stand in the second quarter, with Will Clarke and Darwin Cook combining to stop Jerome Smith on a fourth down inside the 1. But on the next snap, the Orange sacked Smith in the back of the end zone for a 5-0 lead.
After the free kick, Syracuse sliced through WVU, with Gulley racing 33 yards untouched to stretch the lead to 12-0.
Syracuse scored first on Ross Krautman’s 25-yard field goal, but it came only after Alec Lemon had a would-be touchdown pass ricochet off his shoulder pad at the goal line.