By Dave Morrison
Last year, Syracuse rode into Milan Puskar Stadium a decided underdog. In a strange game that featured no scoring in the second half — WVU scored all 14 of its points in the first quarter — the Orange pulled off a 19-14 win.
WVU quarterback Geno Smith threw three of his seven interceptions in that game.
Syracuse threw for just 63 yards in the game and Ross Krautman’s three second-quarter field goals were the difference in the game.
Syracuse (4-2, 0-1 Big East) hosts No. 11 West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) on Friday in the Carrier Dome. The 8 p.m. kickoff will be televised by ESPN.
Syracuse coach Doug Morrone was high on the Mountaineers Monday.
“We’re probably playing the best team, at least since I’ve been here, coming into Syracuse in this West Virginia team,” Marrone said. “When you look at the offense that’s 11th in the country and a defense that’s 16th in the country, they obviously pose a great challenge to our football team.”
While WVU coach Dana Holgorsen downplayed the significance of revenge as a factor, Morrone was well aware of the returnees to the Mountaineers who remember well that loss, which cost WVU the outright Big East title and a BCS Bowl berth.
“I think I’d be naïve not to think that we might have gone into Morgantown and maybe caught them a little bit,” Morrone said. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year.
“Obviously, we won last year. About half of our team was there last year when we played, and the other half wasn’t there. I think they have a lot of players that were there, and they’ll be ready to play.”
One of those is Smith, who is eighth nationally in passing, completing 165 of 258 passes for 2,159 yards. He has 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Last year he had thrown just two entering the Syracuse game.
“If you said, what’s the biggest difference between the teams, (I’d would say) the quarterback play of Geno Smith has gotten much, much better,” Marrone said. “He’s much better than he was a year ago.”
Marrone was also impressed by Smith’s vast array of capable receivers.
“They have a very good receiving corps,” Marrone said. “Those kids, when they catch the ball, they can take it to the end zone at any time.”
WVU’s leading pass catchers include Tavon Austin (42 catches, 564 yards, two touchdowns), Stedman Bailey (34-634-5) and Ivan McCartney (34-455-3). Devon Brown has 13 for 187 and a TD, running back Dustin Garrison has 12 for 97 and Tyler Urban 10 for 103 and two TDs.
“That’ll be a challenge for our secondary, to make sure we keep everything in front of us, and it will be a challenge for our special teams,” Marrone said.
Syracuse leads the all-time series 31-27 but the Mountaineers had won eight in a row before last year’s loss.
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