Simply put, Doug Marrone, Scott Shafter, and Nathaniel Hackett had their way with West Virginia tonight. With Chandler Jones back on defense, we kept the pressure on Geno Smith all night and completely forced West Virginia out of their comfort zone. On offense, we controlled the ball, set up 3rd and shorts, moved the chains, and threw in enough unpredictability and trickery to keep the WVU defense confused and out of breath. We came in with a game plan that would give us a chance to flourish and that's exactly what we did. Doug Marrone and his staff drank Dana Holgorsen's milkshake.
But it wasn't just excellent coaching; credit the players for executing the game plan. Besides the first long WVU TD and the one Provo TD drop, you'd be hard-pressed to fault the team for many mistakes. Nassib was composed and methodical out there, picking apart WVU on slants and wheel routes. Bailey and our other backs didn't dance, instead running hard between the tackles, allowing us to take a commanding lead in time of possession. Our WR's and TE's not only got open, caught passes, but managed to make a WVU defenders miss time and time again. Simply put, this was the best offensive performance I've seen from a Syracuse football team in a long long long time.
But it wasn't just the offense. When WVU scored that long TD and the air was sucked out the Dome, Dorian Grahm immediately inflated the place with his incredible kick-off return TD. Before that, the players seemed fired up, but you can pinpoint that moment as the moment when everyone sort of looked at each other and stopped thinking "we MIGHT win," but rather, "we WILL win."
And of course there's our defense. They bent but really never broke (sans the one long TD). They harassed Smith all night. They played strong and physical. They won the turnover battle. With Chandler back out there, they almost resembled the defense of a year ago.
This was quite a win. My stepfather, who was at the game, texted me afterwards: "After 10 years, big time football is finally back." Having seen WVU a couple times this season, I think this was certainly our biggest win of the Doug Marrone era, bigger than last year's WVU win, bigger than the Pin Stripe Bowl win. We won our first Big East Home game in 23 months, in front of a packed Dome, with the fans going nuts, against a legitimately excellent football team. And we didn't squeak out a victory the way we did in against K-State and WVU last yaer, we put a whooping on them, on ESPN, in prime time. Now, I don't want to get carried away and think that we'll run the table or that we're suddenly a great football team or anything too crazy. BUT, we proved tonight that we can beat any team left on our schedule. That last year was no fluke. That things really are different in the HCDM era. That Syracuse football is on it's way back.