ORLANDO, Fla. – Playing without the guy who finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting would seem to be a significant disadvantage for West Virginia this week. And playing without Will Grier will surely hinder the No. 16 Mountaineers in Friday’s Camping World Bowl against No. 20 Syracuse. But it might not help the Orange all that much, either.
West Virginia has had the benefit of spending the last two weeks practicing with Jack Allison and Trey Lowe, who spent the season as Grier’s backups. Syracuse has all of 11 plays on film to see what either quarterback has to offer.
“To me, this is more like a first game than a bowl game, the way our defense is breaking it down,” said Syracuse coach Dino Babers. “You play a team coming out of camp, you really don’t know what they’re going to do. And I think it’s the advantage for West Virginia. I really do.
“Defensive coordinators are weird and they freak out about everything. I’m like ‘Hey, we’re going to have to adjust.’”
Coaches might not be the only ones forced to adjust.
“I think there’s going to be a bunch of adjustments during the game,” Babers said. “Hopefully our staff makes the most adjustments the quickest and our players can handle adjustments. Some players are fantastic with preparation for an entire week, but they’re not an adjustment player.”
Two teams, one trophy
Only one trophy will be at stake on Friday – the Camping World Bowl trophy. That’s to the consternation of some fans, particularly from Syracuse, who were hoping the Schwartzwalder Trophy would also be in play.
Syracuse and West Virginia started playing for the trophy in 1993 to honor former WVU player and Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder the year following his death. Of course, in those days the Mountaineers and Orange met annually. That hasn’t been the case since West Virginia left the Big East in 2011.
“A lot of the alumni have called and talked about the pleasure of beating West Virginia,” Babers said. “I have not had the pleasure of playing it as the head coach of Syracuse, but I can read. And I do understand the history, and we have enough trophies and windows and things around our office to remind us of our rivalry with West Virginia.”
Syracuse currently holds the Schwartzwalder Trophy thanks to its 49-23 win in 2011. The teams did not play for the trophy when they met in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is looking for his first win against the Orange after dropping those two games.
“It’s a heated rivalry. Fan bases both enjoy it,” Holgorsen said. “And our guys understand that. And we’re going to try to win the game.”
At times, Holgorsen and Babers felt like they were working on a buddy comedy during their final pre-game press conference. After all, “Dana and Dino” has a certain ring to it.
At one point, Holgorsen joked that they reached a secret agreement that neither defense would blitz.
“I thought we agreed not to blitz,” Holgorsen said. “Syracuse blitzes like 80 percent of the time and they’re probably going to blitz every play. I thought we made a deal last night.”
Babers countered with, “Was that the deal?”
Holgorsen also joked that Babers left starting defensive linemen Alton Robinson and McKinley Williams at home to make things fair after seeing West Virginia would be without three offensive starters.
“That’s another deal that me and Dino made when this game came about. We had a couple guys out, so he tried to even it out with a couple of defensive guys that aren’t going to play,” Holgorsen said. “It looks to me it’s an evenly matched game.”
For the record, Holgorsen and Babers didn’t just start riffing with one another this week. The duo met at a clinic for coaches in the Air Raid offense circa 2001.
Based on the regular season, the Camping World Bowl has all the hallmarks of an offensive shootout. Both teams rank in the Top 10 nationally in scoring. But Babers doesn’t necessarily believe that’s how this game is going to turn out.
“I think it’s a good match and I think it should be exciting, but I’m not sure it’s going to be the game that everybody thinks it’s going to be,” Babers said. “It could be one of those 10-7 overtime games that we saw [Wednesday} night.”
Babers was referencing TCU’s 10-7 win over Cal in the Cheez-It Bowl, which featured nine combined interceptions.
Holgorsen does not see things turning out quite the same way.
“I ain’t buying this 10-7 stuff,” Holgorsen said. “We’re going to have to move the ball. I do think that both defenses will be ready to play and be excited about it, but we’re going to have to move the ball and David Sills is going to have to finish a few drives for us to win.”
Sills has 15 touchdown catches this season.
In case of emergency…
Sills was famously recruited as a quarterback when he was still in middle school, and spent his sophomore season playing the position at a junior college before returning to West Virginia as a receiver.
So if there were a situation in which the Mountaineers had to turn to a third-string quarterback against the Orange, would it be Sills?
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Sills said with a laugh. “Let’s hope that’s not it.”