I'll admit, I really didn't think we were going to beat West Virginia. I should've learned, since I didn't think we would do it, and of course we did, wrestling the Ben Schwartzwalder trophy from the dirty grips of Morgantown for the first time since 2001. But last year we had a stalwart defense. We already had a big road win, at South Florida two weeks prior. West Virginia was still helmed by former coach/professional old fogey Bill Stewart. After watching the Syracuse defense ransack West Virginia, winning made sense.
My family made its way up to Syracuse for the game on Friday afternoon. When we met up at Marshall Street before the game, to attempt to try and grab a bite to eat from one of the overpopulated restaurants (seriously, there were crazy lines everywhere), my mom asked me the weekly "do you think you guys'll win?" question. Usually, I'm incredibly optimistic. Even before the USC game, I thought we had a legitimate chance. However, this was not the case on Friday.
I hereby apologize for my lack of faith.
I didn't know that our team was capable of playing the way they did. I hesitate to call it "the perfect game", but I'll admit, it was close. No negative yardage plays on offense is absolutely remarkable. The way that our defense just abused Geno Smith and the Mountaineer blocking scheme was masterful. When the ACC money starts rolling it, I hope we give Scott Shafer a big raise, whether he asks for it or not. He's absolutely invaluable to the program.
Dana Holgerson is supposed to be a mastermind, and to his credit, his team put up over 400 yards of offense (although that's impressive for SU considering the NFL defense masquerading as a group of college students down at LSU gave up 533). However, he was completely out-coached by Doug Marrone up and down the field. The only real success that West Virginia had was throwing the ball down the field, specifically against Kevyn Scott. While the pressure that Smith was under in-perpetuity, and the two interceptions probably made Holgerson hesitant to do this, I think that they would've had more success if they kept attacking the back of our defense. I'm not complaining though.
It was great to see Ryan Nassib get back to the great play which we came to expect earlier this year. He looked a whole lot more comfortable in the pocket (which was probably helped by the fact that it wasn't constantly closing in on him), and I loved that he seemed a little less hesitant to run when it opened up for him. That read-option near the goal-line which has worked two games in a row now is a thing of beauty.
Antwon Bailey has rushed for 100+ yards in four straight games now, and is on pace for just under 1,260 yards this season, assuming we make a bowl. He's quietly having a great season, and could end up eclipsing Delone Carter's yardage production from last year.
I was really impressed with what I saw from our other two running backs as well. Jerome Smith had some very nice, and important, runs. I'm a little concern how high he runs, but that's definitely something that is fixable. Adonis Ameen-Moore is just a freight train. There was one run Friday where he got hit and was just about parallel to the ground and kept chopping his feet and got another yard and a half. I'm very excited for him in the future.
While this team doesn't have a Mike Williams, who can take over the game at receiver, we have an ever-improving group of really solid players. On top of the continued emergence of Dorian Graham as a potential game-breaking weapon, I love that we've worked more and more players into the mix on offense, including Jeremiah Kobena. Having Kobena and Graham on the field at the same time would be a problem for any defense. The tight ends were an absolute revelation as well. Part of it was that West Virginia was running a defense in which they apparently dedicate themselves to forgetting TEs exist, but they were wide open on almost every play. Kudos to Hackett and Nassib for identifying this, and drawing up plays for them early and often. I loved that once we found something that worked, i.e. the tight end wheel route, we went back to the well until the defense proved they could stop it (spoiler alert: they never did).
The offensive line deserves a ton of credit for this game. They absolutely dominated a very solid WVU d-line. No sacks, no lost yardage, and I don't know if Nassib even got hit more than once or twice. The line has been much-maligned this season, and for good reason. They've struggled. Friday was hopefully a huge step forward for them. If they play like this the rest of the year, or even close to it, we're going to be tough to beat.
The defensive line was similarly dominant. We've really struggled to get much pressure with just our down linemen, and in a game where we only played three linemen out of our okie package most of the time, our D-Line lived in the backfield. Chandler was an absolute monster. The sack where he was still being blocked, and just grabbed the Geno Smith from around the offensive tackle and tossed him was a thing of beauty. The sheer amount of blitzing we saw out of Shafer helped, and it really helped us having Olando Fisher back. He's kind of a tweener, since he's not big enough to play LB and not quite quick enough to be a true safety, but that is the type of player who flourishes as the spur in the Okie package.
Siriki Diabate had a great game. He played instead of Dyshawn Davis most of the game because of the defense we were in, and was all over the field. He's not very big, but he can fly around the field, and looks to have great instincts. We have five linebackers right now who can all play, and all of them should be back next year. That's exciting.
Keon Lyn is a lockdown cornerback. I think it is time where we can say this. He shut down Sanu on Rutgers, and he didn't even get thrown at more than a few times downfield by Geno Smith. Unfortunately, Kevyn Scott continues to be an issue. He's still really struggling when the ball is in the air, and if he doesn't play it right and pick it off, it is a touchdown every time. That 63-yard touchdown should probably not have happened- the pass was an absolute duck and both Scott and Jeremi Wilkes just misplayed it awfully.
Our special teams were a weapon for the first time in a long time. A few weeks ago, we couldn't block at all on kick returns. We now have two straight weeks of 90+ yard returns, and the blocking on Graham's touchdown this week was perfect. We're a team that you just can't kick to at this point. I'd love for punt returns to become the same way, and I think that Steve Rene can be dangerous with the ball, but until we can get blocking down on those I'm fine taking the fair catches.
Onward to Louisville this week. I attended Doug Marrone's luncheon at PJ Dorsey's this week (as I'm sure many of you saw on Twitter), and he admitted that Louisville is a team that's built well to beat us. West Virginia is a real finesse team, while Louisville is going to try to punch us in the mouth, like we did to WVU on Friday. However, West Virginia is much more talented than U of L, so if we play close to the same way this week, we should come home and flip a banner. There are no teams left on the schedule we can't beat, but on the other hand, we're still susceptible to a loss in any game, as well. I have faith now, that our coaches and our players know the opportunity at hand, and will come out with the same fire that we saw on Friday.