The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 20th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers are set to wrap up a three-game homestand this weekend, as they invite the Syracuse Orange to Morgantown for a Big East clash at Milan Puskar Stadium.
After opening their homestand with an easy 49-10 win over UNLV, the Mountaineers topped South Florida, 20-6, on Thursday in their Big East opener.
"It was a total team victory and I'm just real glad we were able to get out of here with a win because they have sure had our number," said head coach Bill Stewart about the triumph of South Florida.
WVU is now 5-1 overall, including a perfect 4-0 at home, as the Mountaineers have to be considered the favorites for the Big East championship.
On the other side, the Orange were finally brought back to reality with a 45-14 humbling by Pittsburgh on Saturday.
"Obviously we're disappointed with the outcome," stated head coach Doug Marrone. "Sometimes you can look at a game and say, 'If we would have done this, it would have been different.' I give credit to Pitt, they beat us on offense, they beat us on defense and they beat us on special teams."
The defeat snapped a three-game win streak for Syracuse, which is now 4-2 overall, with two of those victories coming over FCS programs.
Syracuse leads the all-time series with WVU, 30-27, but the Mountaineers have taken each of the past eight meetings. Last season, WVU posted a 34-13 victory over the Orange at the Carrier Dome.
The Orange turned the ball over four times and managed only 308 total yards, as they were handled by Pitt over the weekend. Ryan Nassib threw for 231 yards and a TD, but he completed just 25-of-46 pass attempts with two INTs.
"I feel like I did alright but I can do a lot better," said Nassib. "I definitely had a dumb mistake in my interception, my second one, and I just felt like I could have gotten the ball out faster a couple of times and made a couple better, more accurate throws. I'll go from there."
Despite the yardage, Nassib didn't have one of his better performances, as he had thrown 10 TDs against just two INTs through the first five games. Van Chew has been his favorite target up to this point and he hauled in five balls for 50 yards and a score last weekend. He now leads the squad with 28 receptions and 452 receiving yards.
Delone Carter scored on the ground for the Orange's other TD, though he finished with just 38 yards on 13 carries. A steady runner, Carter has amassed 562 yards on the ground this season and Syracuse will need a bi performance from him this weekend if the team is to surprise the Mountaineers.
Pitt scored on a 79-yard screen pass on its first offensive play of the game and the Orange defense never recovered in the 45-14 loss. Syracuse surrendered 404 total yards, with 281 yards and four TDs coming through the air on 17- of-24 pass attempts. It was a big letdown for a unit that has fared well versus the pass this season, permitting just 180.5 ypg.
The Orange also failed to force Pitt into a single giveaway and that has been a big problem for the defense. Through six games, Syracuse has come up with only six takeaways, though the defense has had success getting to opposing QBs with 14 sacks to its credit. Mike Holmes had one of the team's two sacks last weekend and he now has three for the year, to go with 30 tackles.
The Mountaineers did enough to get past USF last week, but the offense was by no means impressive with only 298 yards gained. The problem was WVU's ground game which managed only 79 yards on 33 carries, well below the team's season average of 149.0 rushing ypg. TB Noel Devine ran for just 29 yards on 13 carries, though he did catch a 12-yard TD pass on a hook-and-lateral with WR Jock Sanders.
"We just couldn't get the little guy loose," said Stewart of Devine. "When we go spread South Florida just matches up, and that's what has happened the last four or five years."
Devine has still rushed for 504 yards this season and he is well known for his big play capability. QB Geno Smith picked up the slack for the offense last week and he completed 24-of-31 pass attempts for 219 yards and two TDs in the win over USF. It was another strong performance from Smith, who has been very efficient this year, converting 68.4 percent of his tosses with 14 TDs and just two INTs.
With 10 catches versus USF, Sanders now leads the Mountaineers in receptions (36) for the year, while Tavon Austin is tops with 413 receiving yards. Brad Starks has also emerged as a weapon, catching four TDs passes in the last two games after failing to come up with a single reception through the first four outings.
WVU turned in another strong performance on defense last week, holding USF to only 202 total yards and six points. This unit has developed into one of the best in the Big East, holding opponents to a mere 12.3 ppg and only 245.8 total ypg.
The Mountaineers, who are holding foes to 83.2 rushing ypg, limited USF to 65 yards on 29 carries, while slowing down the passing attack with three INTs and five sacks. Keith Tandy has himself a night, as he led the team with 10 tackles to go with an INT and forced fumble. He now has a team-high four INTs on the season. Bruce Irvin also got into the mix, registering his team-best fifth sack of the campaign.