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West Virginia QB Smith not Orange crushed

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By Josh Sickles
Friday, Oct. 21, 2011

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. — West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith remembers last year's loss to Syracuse well.

It was easily his worst game of the year, throwing for 178 yards and three interceptions. He was sacked five times, but the junior isn't dwelling on it.

"I made a couple mistakes, but that game's in the past," Smith said. "We have an opportunity to get a big win on the road."

No. 11 West Virginia is looking for a 2-0 start in Big East play when it faces Syracuse at 8 p.m. Friday in the Carrier Dome. Despite the poor performance, Smith isn't looking for redemption; he's just looking for a win.

"I don't have anything to prove," he said. "I can't even try and dwell on that. ... I'm not the same player I was last year."

The Mountaineers struggled offensively against the Orange. Neither team scored in the second half. West Virginia had a chance to win the game, driving to the Syracuse 20-yard line on its final drive, but two sacks ended the threat. West Virginia finished with 284 yards and converted on just 2 of 4 red zone chances.

This season, West Virginia has gained at least 480 yards in every game except the lightning-shorten opener against Marshall. Syracuse coach Doug Marrone believes that Smith has been the difference in West Virginia's success this season.

"He's much more mature, good in the pocket, knows where to go with the football," Marrone said. "You can see his decision process is so much quicker now than last year."

Through six games, Smith has thrown for 2,159 yards after throwing for 2,763 last year. He also has tossed 16 touchdowns to only three interceptions, and two of those interceptions came off receivers' hands.

Part of it has to do with coach Dana Holgorsen's offensive scheme, but there's no question Smith has improved as a quarterback.

"He's willing to work hard every week and get better every week," Holgorsen said. "You put that kind of time in, and you'll probably get better."

Smith looked confused and tentative in the pocket last season against Syracuse's pass rush. The Orange likely will do the same thing this season.

The return of senior defensive end Chandler Jones will bolster the Syracuse pass rush. Jones said he feels "100 percent" after missing the past five games with a knee injury. He sacked Smith twice in last year's game.

"You have to adjust to what they're doing and just handle it," Holgorsen said. "To say they're not going to pressure is the same as saying that we're not going to pass the ball. It's what they do, and they're good at it."

Mountaineers' gameday

West Virginia at Syracuse

When/where: 8 p.m. Friday/Carrier Dome

TV/radio: ESPN, Mountaineer Sports Network, SIRIUS Channel 93 and XM 190, and

Favorite: West Virginia by 14

Records: West Virginia (5-1, 1-0 Big East); Syracuse (4-2, 0-1)

Series: Syracuse leads, 31-27

Last meeting: Syracuse 19-14, Oct. 23, 2010

Outlook: The winner will receiver the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy. Schwartzwalder played at West Virginia and coached Syracuse from 1949-73. ... Since the trophy's inception in 1993, West Virginia holds an 11-7 advantage. ...The Mountaineers are one of four teams nationally to rank in the top 20 in total offense and defense (Boise State, Wisconsin and Stanford). ... West Virginia receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin rank first and second in the Big East in receiving at 105.7 and 94.0 yards per game, respectively. ... Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib has led his team on a game-winning or game-tying drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in every Orange win this season. ... In the fourth quarter and overtime, Nassib has completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 430 yards and five touchdowns.

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