Syracuse handily defeats WVU in Pinstripe Bowl
NEW YORK — It didn't matter that West Virginia wasn't playing a Big 12 team, or that the Mountaineers were extremely familiar with their opponent in Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl.
No, what mattered again was that the Mountaineers were their own worse enemy in a demoralizing 38-14 loss to Syracuse on a dreary day at Yankee Stadium.
As snow fell throughout the game, so, too, did the fortunes of a WVU football team whose season ended badly after beginning with such promise.
“Discouraging,” WVU coach Dan Holgorsen said.
Instead of ending the illustrious careers of Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin on a high note, the Mountaineers were surprisingly off-key.
For the Mountaineers (7-6), it was their third consecutive defeat to Syracuse. The previous two setbacks occurred in 2010 and ‘11 as Big East members.
Syracuse destroyed the Mountaineers by rushing for 369 yards, the highest total yielded by WVU this season.
“We have to re-evaluate a lot of things in our program to see what we have to do to get better to compete in the Big 12,” Holgorsen said.
“Syracuse was not new to us, but the conference was new to us. We're going to learn a lot more about what happened in the Big 12 this year. Moving on from here, it's a little bit more about that than this bowl game against Syracuse.”
Syracuse (8-5) overpowered WVU with a straight-ahead running game that controlled the clock and kept the Mountaineers' offense off the field.
WVU made it close late in the first half, getting a touchdown pass from Smith to Bailey to cut Syracuse's lead to 12-7 just before intermission.
Smith completed 16 of 24 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns in his final college game. He was sacked three times; twice, he was forced into committing a safety by Syracuse's defense.
Bailey was spectacular, catching seven passes for 126 yards and two scores in wintry conditions.
Austin was held in check with two receptions for 21 yards and 54 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Syracuse outscored the Mountaineers, 23-7, in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
Syracuse controlled the game early. The Orange led, 3-0, after the first quarter and built a 5-0 advantage when Smith was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
Poor weather — snow and freezing rain resulted in slick footing — was as much a deterrent to WVU's potent offense as Syracuse's defense. Things really started looking grim when the Mountaineers fell behind, 12-0.
With Austin being held in check as a receiver and runner, Smith turned to his other weapon in the passing game, Bailey, to score.
Smith and Bailey burned Syracuse on a 32-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Smith tossed a short pass across the middle and Bailey did the rest, breaking a tackle before regaining his balance to score upright and untouched.
The game became even more heated when coaches had to separate players on the field with eight seconds left before halftime, just as they did before the start of the game.
As it turned out, it was the most emotion that the Mountaineers would display all day.
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.