Big East conference competition heats up on Friday night, as a pair of games get underway with the featured Big East game of the night taking place at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY, as the Syracuse Orangemen (4-2) get set to host the #11-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers (5-1). Without a doubt this match-up focuses on West Virginia’s starting quarterback, Geno Smith, who has been setting fire to teams week in and week out, passing for 2159 yards through just six games (359 yards/game), but will get another challenge tonight as the Mountaineers seek to avenge a tough 19-14 loss last October to Syracuse, where Smith was manhandled for 5 sacks and 3 interceptions. Though this year’s match-up doesn’t appear likely to repeat the same way as last year, considering West Virginia is averaging 14 more points per game than Syracuse (40.8 vs. 26.7), and generates almost 200 more yards per game of offense (503 vs. 333), you never know what can happen in a Big East match-up, especially with the favored team having to play on the road.
In order for the Orangemen to have success in this game tonight, they simply have to get better work out of their defense, which despite winning two weeks ago (prior to a bye week), allowed 34 points to Tulane, to put their season scoring defense (27.3 points allowed) above their average points scored (26.7). There is simply no way the Syracuse offense can contend toe-to-toe with Geno Smith and the Mountaineers, so the focus is going to have to be improving the defense to put up a similar performance against Smith as they did last season. Luckily for Syracuse, they’ll get some help on D with safety Orlando Fisher and defensive end Chandler Jones back in the mix after missing 5 weeks of play apiece, however with the flukish victory last year being the first win for the Orangemen against WVU since 2001, a return to the average seems highly likely in this contest, especially with Syracuse ranking 112th in the FBS in pass defense. With Syracuse being a ground-heavy offense behind senior running back Antwon Bailey (124 carries, 553 yards, 5 TDS), they can only hope to get some luck in the turnover game, keep possession in their favor by getting 1st downs, and keeping QB Ryan Nassib completing short passes to try and chip away at the WVU defense that is allowing 21.5 points per game this season. Otherwise, as the betting lines indicate, this could be a runaway game for the Mountaineers in a game of revenge featuring one of the most potent passing games in the land against one of the weakest opposing defenses.
Betting Lines for #11 West Virginia at Syracuse at Betonline.com
Betonline Sportsbook puts the WVU Mountaineers at -550 favorites to win, while the Syracuse Orangemen come in at +445 underdogs to win at home on the money line. With little incentive to chase either of those lines, turn to the points spread, which has the Mountaineers giving up 14 points to the Orangemen at -115 odds, while the Syracuse stands at -105 odds to cover +14 points. With a top passing offense on the field, the over/under is inflated to 59 points, -110 odds going either way.
Our Pick to Win:
I think it would be foolish to expect history to repeat itself in Syracuse tonight, as this year’s Mountaineers’ squad will not be stymied in up-state New York like they were last October, 23rd. I fully expect WVU quarterback Geno Smith to head to the air attack immediately in the first half, but once the Mountaineers have a lead, expect to see a lot of work from up-and-coming freshman running back Dustin Garrison, who in his only 20+ carry game of the year on October 1st put up 291 yards on 32 carries against Bowling Green. After rolling over Connecticut 43-16 in Big East play in their last game before a bye week, expect to see more of the same against a similar Syracuse squad, as WVU rolls on the road 37-14.
Players to Watch, Syracuse:
Antwon Bailey, RB – One of the two focal points of the Orangemen offense needs a repeat of his 111 yard, 1 TD performance he had against Tulane before the bye week. He’ll need 20+ carries to clip that mark, and also if the Orangemen are to stand a chance at winning, as they’re 3-1 when Bailey goes over 20 carries and 100 yards rushing.
Alec Lemon, WR – The 6’2″ junior needs to pull down a TD grab after not being hit in the endzone for 2 straight games (prior getting a TD in 3 straight outings). At 31 catches for 322 yards and 3 TDs, Lemon is QB Ryan Nassib’s main target, and against an exploitable WVU secondary, this pairing needs to work if the Orangemen are to stand any chance of beating the spread, let alone grabbing a highly unlikely victory.
Players to Watch, West Virginia:
Dustin Garrison, RB – Though he didn’t even have a touch on the ground in the first game of the season against Marshall, and didn’t play against Maryland, Garrison has put up 436 yards in essentially the last three games played. This kid is explosive for 5’8″, and against a very weak Syracuse defense, if he hits the second level at any time tonight, his yards could blossom very quickly and give him another huge night on the ground.
Stedman Bailey, WR – The Bailey on the other side of the ball (no relation) has been Geno Smith’s main target, racking up 100 yard games in his last 4 starts (including 178 yards and 2 TDs against UConn in WVU’s last contest). Against the 112th ranked pass defense of Syracuse, look for this Bailey to go nuts tonight.