Syracuse 38, West Virginia 14: Mountaineers end season with fitting Pinstripe Bowl loss

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen wanted to use Syracuse's recent success against the Mountaineers as the fuel for the Pinstripe Bowl. Maybe that message got lost in West Virginia's move to the Big 12 this season.

Syracuse ended West Virginia's first full season removed from the Big East with a 38-14 beat down in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in home of baseball's New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium. Syracuse used an overwhelming run game to control the time of possession and keep West Virginia's offensive stars off the field, but even when Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were on the field the Syracuse defense was more than up to the task.Having some familiarity with West Virginia as longtime Big East rivals surely had something to do with the success Syracuse was able to have in the first bowl game meeting between the two, but the Pinstripe Bowl was just another disappointing performance in the second half of the year for a West Virginia team that has been largely silent since the beginning of October.

Defense was the theme of the game early on, with both West Virginia and Syracuse coming up with big plays in the snowy Yankee Stadium. The Orange put the only points of the first quarter on the scoreboard with a 25-yard field goal by Ross Krautman. Syracuse drove down field against West Virginia midway through the second quarter, led by quarterback Ryan Nassib showing great mental and physical toughness. Nassib had to leave the game for just one play after being rocked by West Virginia’s Terance Garvin, who actually had two great hits on the Syracuse quarterback in the game. Nassib returned for a fourth down and short and continued to lead Syracuse don to the West Virginia goal-line, where the Mountaineers came through with a fourth own stop as Doug Marrone opted to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal. The Syracuse defense made up for the missed score by knocking the football out of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith’s hands in the end zone, to record a safety after a lineman fell on the loose football.

Less than two minutes later Syracuse running back Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for the first of his two touchdowns of the game, running straight up the middle of West Virginia’s defense for a 33-yard touchdown dash and a 12-0 lead on the ensuing possession. Smith and Stedman Bailey connected for a late first half touchdown from 32 yards to cut in to the lead but a second scoring opportunity was thumped by penalties, another theme of the day for West Virginia.

West Virginia was called for ten penalties in the game for a total of 94 yards, some wiping out a number of Tavon Austin plays that resulted in good returns, good yardage or a touchdown. When West Virginia was not shooting their muskets in to their moccasins, Syracuse was gashing them on the ground using theirs. Syracuse rushed for 377 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. The dominance on the ground helped Syracuse overcome losing the turnover battle with two turnovers to West Virginia’s one. Gulley led the game with 215 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Jerome Smith complimented Gulley with 158 rushing yards.

Syracuse’s running game was truly effective, and the weather may have been a factor in relying so heavily on the running game for Syracuse. The Pinstripe Bowl was billed as a duel between two quarterbacks thought to be thinking big things in the upcoming NFL Draft. West Virginia’s Smith did not have a great outing, going 16 for 24 for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Nassib was not exactly standout player either in his final game, ending his day by going 12 of 24 for 127 yards. Of course, wether conditiions were far from ideal as a winter storm moved through the region starting early in the morning and continuing with snow throughout the game.

Syracuse blew the game wide open in the third quarter, outscoring the Mountaineers 23-7, thanks to a paid of Nassib touchdown passes, a 67-yard touchdown run by Gulley and the second safety of the game when Smith was called for intentional grounding inside his own end zone.

It was actually a fitting end to the 2012 season for West Virginia, who started the year off having many believe in them as a viable BCS championship contender in the first year of their move to the Big 12. What looked so promising in September quickly turned sour as West Virginia moved through their Big 12 schedule. With upcoming departures of key offensive players like Smith, Bailey and Austin coming up for West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen will have some work to do to ensure this program can improve in their second year in the Big 12.

Syracuse will also be undergoing some changes next year, moving in to the ACC along with Big East partner Pittsburgh. The Orange will be an interesting team to watch, reuniting with former Big East rivals Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami. The Orange seemed to improve as the season played out, so momentum is clearly heading in the right direction for the football program.

West Virginia will open the 2013 season at home against William & Mary, before heading to Oklahoma in week two. They also have road games at Kansas State, TCU and Baylor. West Virginia also hosts Texas and Oklahoma State and plays a neutral site game against Maryland in Baltimore.

Syracuse will open their 2013 season against a pair of Big Ten opponents. First Syracuse plays in MetLife Stadium against Penn State before traveling to Northwestern the following week. The ACC schedule has yet to be determined, but games against Florida State and Clemson will give Syracuse a barometer to see where they fit in among the ACC’s best.

 

Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com and host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast.

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About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to NBCSports.com's College Football Talk, Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio and iHeart Radio. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.

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