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WVU offense comes under fire after Syracuse loss

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For two weeks, fans stopped griping about West Virginia's offense. For two weeks, the Mountaineers looked like a balanced team in victories against UNLV and South Florida which boosted WVU into the top 20.

Those gripes could be heard in almost a cohesive sigh Saturday afternoon as disappointed fans walked out of Milan Puskar Stadium's gates with their heads down following West Virginia's 19-14 loss to Syracuse.

That offense, which has been highly scrutinized throughout West Virginia coach Bill Stewart's three-year tenure, put up its lowest total points against Syracuse since 1999. It was tied for the third-lowest point total put up by a WVU team under Stewart.

"I just don't see a lot of consistency," Stewart said. "They're young men. They're going to make mistakes."

Geno Smith threw three interceptions, his first multi-pick game as WVU's starter.

"(He) just had a rough day at the ranch," Stewart said.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen took the blame for the struggles of Smith, who completed 20 of 37 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown.

"He's our guy," Mullen said. "He's a wonderful human being and a great player, and he had an off day. That's my fault. That's not his fault. He's a sophomore in his seventh start. I wouldn't care if he's a fifth-year senior in his 50th start. He's a college kid, and I get paid to do this. I've got to do a better job of getting him prepared, and we will."

The offensive line gave up five sacks for the first time since 2001. One of those came on West Virginia's last offensive play - a fourth-and-22.

Stewart said the offensive line struggled to deal with Syracuse's rush, which meant Smith couldn't stand in the pocket and throw down the field as much as WVU would've liked.

"(Syracuse) did an awful lot of blitzing," Stewart said. "That put a lot of strain on the offensive line."

Starting center Joe Madsen said the line struggled with communication and didn't recognize blitzes early enough.

West Virginia's offense is now ranked in the bottom half of the country in all four main statistical categories. WVU is 61st in passing offense, 69th in scoring offense, 70th in total offense and 73rd in rushing offense.

The rushing offense is second-worst in the Big East Conference.

Stewart said when Smith struggles, "you had to have help from your running game."

While starting running back Noel Devine had 122 yards, the team finished with just 106 total rushing yards.

"Offensive football is always about execution," Mullen said. "As a coach, I want to go back, look at the tape and see what I can do to better prepare for the next game."

West Virginia has just six days to prepare for Friday's game against Connecticut.

"If we don't focus," Smith said, "we won't win."

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