|Syracuse RB Prince-Tyson Gulley rushed for 215 yards, as Syracuse defeated West Virginia 38-14 on Saturday. (US Presswire)|
In snowy, slippery conditions, the ability to limit humiliating, game-changing miscues is just as crucial as capitalizing on long, explosive gains.
For Mountaineers QB Geno Smith, the projected No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL Draft, it was a performance to forget in his final college game. Smith lost his grip on a critical fumble in the third quarter, lost his footing on a safety later in the quarter and was sacked in the end zone on another Syracuse safety in the 24-point defeat.
West Virginia (7-6) was whistled for 10 penalties, none more deflating than a holding penalty on LT Quinton Spain that nullified a 28-yard touchdown run by RB Andrew Buie in the third quarter. The score would have whittled a 19-7 Orange lead to single digits.
From the outset, the Mountaineers were beset by errors. Smith led his team on an 11-play, 51-yard drive to open the game before K Tyler Bitancurt had a 36-yard field goal blocked. On the ensuing series, Syracuse took a 3-0 lead after a pass interference call on West Virginia DB Karl Joseph kept a 14-play drive alive.
With Mountaineers defenders slipping throughout, Syracuse rushed for a season-high 376 yards. RB Prince-Tyson Gulley finished with 265 total yards and three TDs. Entering Saturday's game, West Virginia had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Gulley, the Pinstripe Bowl MVP, rushed for a career-high 215 yards while teammate Jerome Smith added 158.
In its final game as a member of the Big East, Syracuse extended its winning streak against its former conference rival to three.
When the game turned: The Mountaineers could have seized momentum midway through the third quarter when LB Isaiah Bruce intercepted Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib at the Orange 25. On the next play, however, Syracuse DE Brandon Sharpe caused Smith to lose the ball before his arm went forward on a fumble recovered by LB Dyshawn Davis. One play later, Gulley gave Syracuse an insurmountable 26-7 lead with a 67-yard burst down the right sidelines for a touchdown.
What they said:
- Syracuse coach Doug Marrone on his affinity for his team after its second win in the Pinstripe Bowl in three seasons: "This is the closest group of players I've had in four years." Marrone told WAER 88.3 in Syracuse.
- Syracuse RB Gulley on his team's mentality with a 12-7 halftime lead: "We knew that we just needed to finish,” Gulley told ESPN. “We came on in the second half and put it all together.”
Highlight moments: A key block by Syracuse OG Rob Trudo early in the second quarter opened a crease for Gulley on a 33-yard touchdown run up the middle. It gave Syracuse a 12-0 lead. West Virginia responded with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Smith to WR Stedman Bailey to close the deficit to 12-7 at the half. Early in the third quarter, Bruce deflected a Nassib pass that caromed directly to Syracuse TE Beckett Wales for a 10-yard touchdown. Bailey scored his second touchdown of the day on a 29-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter after Syracuse DB Brandon Reddish lost his footing on the slick turf.
Significance of Syracuse's victory: With the victory, the Orange won four straight to end the season and six of their final seven. The win provides Syracuse with momentum as it heads into the ACC next fall. Despite losing Nassib, WRs Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales and five starters on defense, Gulley and Smith could return. The performance illustrates Syracuse can excel with a ground-based attack.
Significance of West Virginia's loss: Late in September, Smith emerged as the early frontrunner for the Heisman after a superlative performance in a 70-63 win over Baylor. Few pundits could have predicted his precipitous fall over the last three months, capped by Saturday's loss. The Mountaineers must adjust to life without Smith and Bailey next season.
Top shelf performances:
- Syracuse RB Gulley: 26 carries for a career-high 215 rushing yards, 2 TDs; 5 receptions for 50 yards, 1 TD.
- Syracuse RB Smith: 29 carries for 158 rushing yards.
- West Virginia WR Bailey: 8 catches for 122 yards; 2 TDs.
- West Virginia LB Terence Garvin: 2 sacks, 1 FF.
Numbers you should know: The Mountaineers went a combined 0 for 12 on third and fourth down conversions, as they were unable to convert on both attempts on fourth down. Syracuse more than doubled its per-game rushing average on Saturday. The Orange had averaged 171.8 rushing yards per game (53rd in FBS) entering the Pinstripe Bowl. Smith threw for under 200 yards for just the second time in 2012.
(For more on the Pinstripe Bowl, check out the Eye on College Football blog)
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