I’m dreaming, of a white bowl game,…
That was the thought that went through my mind as the Mountaineers took the field for the Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse. Any football field covered in snow is a beautiful sight to see. Everything else that I saw in this game was just down right ugly. It was like a snow globe of frustration and poor play.
West Virginia came into the Pinstripe Bowl seeking to end a two-game losing streak to Syracuse and left the field with an embarrassing 38-14 loss in a game that was muddled with terrible playing conditions and an array of penalties.
The two teams combined for 174 yards in penalties, with most of the yards attributed to personal fouls and pass interference calls. Syracuse had a terrible time in the first half of keeping the Mountaineers offense on the field with unnecessary penalties. West Virginia similarly had problems with committing too many penalties on the defensive side of the football, especially in long passing situations. The tough conditions were difficult on defensive backs especially, and it showed in the number of pass interference calls against WVU.
Pass interference calls were one of the few things keeping either passing game relevant in this contest. Both quarterbacks, Geno Smith and Ryan Nassib, struggled to complete passes to receivers in the frigid conditions. Nassib completed only 12 passes for 134 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Rather mediocre numbers from a player that has been tagged as a pro prospect.
Geno Smith faired equally poorly in this game. Smith only completed 16 passes on the afternoon, the vast majority of which were quick bubble screens. The WVU passing attack failed to get going vertically for much of the afternoon and was swallowed up by the Orange defenders near the line of scrimmage. Geno only passed for a meager 197 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Almost all of the passing statistics can be credited to Stedman Bailey. He caught 7 of Smith’s passes for 126 yards and both Mountaineers touchdowns. Outside of Stedman Bailey, no receiver on either team had a great day playing in the awful conditions at Yankee Stadium.
Weather was certainly a factor in the outcome of this game, but cannot be the sole source of blame. Both teams had to deal with the poor playing conditions, but only one team devised a game plan to suit the weather. When the conditions are poor, you have to be able to execute a running game to move the ball down the field.
Syracuse executed an excellent rushing attack against a relatively tough Mountaineers rushing defense. The Orange came into the game averaging 169 yards rushing per game, a total they accumulated in the first half against the Mountaineers defense. For the game, the Orange diced WVU’s defense for 369 yards on the ground.
Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns while teammate Jerome Smith ran for 157 yards. The dynamic duo was able to move the ball effectively in the cold weather and the play calling mix between the speedy Gulley and bruising Smith was perfectly orchestrated. You cannot give Doug Marrone enough credit for recognizing that his team needed to keep the ball on the ground to control the tempo of the game and keep WVU’s offensive freezing on the bench.
Once Syracuse answered WVU’s long touchdown pass to Bailey in the 2nd half, to re-establish their dominant lead at 33-14, it appeared as though the Mountaineers lost their will to compete. It was a difficult task for the coaching staff to motivate this team to compete in a low-level bowl game against another team that struggled to make a bowl game. Holgorsen sold the players on the historic rivalry and vengeance for the past two meetings, but it was apparent that the players just did not want this game as badly as Syracuse.
Given the way this season has gone, the bowl game seems to be a summary of what we have seen all season long. The offense had some big plays that got fans out of their seats and gave hope that they could win the game, but the defense would ultimately be the undoing of this team. As we bid farewell to some of the greatest offensive talents to ever play in Morgantown, we cannot help but question what this offense could have accomplished with a more competent defense to support them.
Looking at the depth chart for next season and the recruiting that the Mountaineers have accomplished to this point, I would expect that we may very well be in the exactly opposite position next year. This year’s defense was extremely young and will be bringing back a lot of talented players to complement the highly rated defensive recruits that Holgorsen is bringing in. The question for next year’s team will be: who is going to be the big time player(s) on offense?
Needless to say, the inaugural Big XII season is not one that Mountaineers fans are going to want to relive for years to come.