As Syracuse players streamed into the Grand Hyatt on New York’s East 42nd Street, offensive tackle Justin Pugh said this year’s check-in was going a lot more smoothly than his previous visit to the Pinstripe Bowl in 2010.
“I remember last time, coming out of Penn Station, the weather was real, real bad,” Pugh said. “I had to wait like an hour-and-a-half in the freezing cold with snow coming down just to catch a taxi. This time it was a lot easier to commute — there wasn’t four feet of snow making it hard to get around.”
Snow, rain and temps in the low-30s are forecast for Saturday afternoon’s kickoff. Not that Syracuse coach Doug Marrone would mind some precipitation, joking that inclement weather might help neutralize West Virginia’s two NFL-bound receivers, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
“Hopefully there will be a lot of rain, snow or a tough surface for them, but I’m not even sure that would slow them down,” Marrone said.
Actually, both offenses are capable of putting up gigantic numbers snow or shine. West Virginia ranks No. 8 in the FBS in total offense and Syracuse sits at No. 21, two units that combine for 991 yards per game. No wonder Pinstripe Bowl executive director Mark Holtzman, upon announcing the pairing back on Dec. 2, was giddy in his prediction of 1,000 yards of passing.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for the West Virginia offense and how explosive they are,” Marrone said. “Whether it’s a 5-yard catch that turns into a touchdown or a go route and they just run by everyone, their whole receiving corp is outstanding.”
Last season, amid the climate-controlled environment of the Carrier Dome, Syracuse cold-cocked WVU 49-23 behind a monstrous performance by quarterback Ryan Nassib. He threw four touchdowns that night and ran for a fifth as the Orange extended its lead in the all-time series to 32-27.
“We had a good day,” said Nassib, “but just because we had a good game against them last year doesn’t mean we can just show up, roll a ball out and play.”
The teams will stage their first Big Apple practices on Wednesday — Syracuse working out at Columbia University and WVU at Fordham — but first comes a morning tour of the Empire State Building. And while coach Dana Holgorsen said 75 percent of his Mountaineers have never been to New York City, even some of the local Syracuse players are excited about sightseeing.
“I’m from Queens and I’ve never even been to the Empire State building,” said Orange defensive tackle Jay Bromley. “So I’m as excited as anybody to go see it.”
Though Marrone called the Pinstripe Bowl pairing “odd” in that opponents rarely possess such an intimate knowledge of each other, he thought the rivalry aspect could make the matchup appealing.
“It’s good from a point that both teams know it’s going to be a very, very competitive game,” he said. “We’ve seen all their tape and they’ve seen all of ours, but at this point in the season there could be some wrinkles. So you’ve got to be sound in all three phases.”
Pugh, a senior with 33 starts, was an All-Big East selection last season when Syracuse routed WVU. In assessing the Mountaineers’ defensive line between then and now, he cited a major difference.
“You lose a guy like Bruce Irvin, a No. 1 pick, it’s definitely going to hurt,” Pugh said. “Still, everyone keeps saying their defense struggled this year, but you can see on film that they had the players to make the plays.”
WVU players were not available for interviews upon arriving in New York City on Christmas Day, but Twitter breaks down all communication barriers.
For instance, freshman receiver Jordan Thompson (left) strolled Times Square with linebacker Shaq Petteway.
And receiver Stedman Bailey found the sidewalk scene interesting: “It’s a lot of Hustlers in NYC! Somebody selling something on every corner! Literally”