No. 11 West Virginia (5-1 SU, 3-3 ATS) at Syracuse Orange (4-2 SU, 2-4 ATS)
Friday October 21st, 2011. 8:00PM EST, College Football Week 8
Carrier Dome Syracuse, N.Y.
By Jay Horne, Collegiate Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: WVU -14/SYR +14
Over/Under Total: OFF
The no. 11 West Virginia Mountaineers will return to the national spotlight this Friday night when they play visitors to the Syracuse Orange inside the Carrier Dome. For those that remember, the Mountaineers faltered under the national spotlight just 3 weeks ago in a huge game against LSU with College GameDay on hand. West Virginia bounced back with two straight wins since that loss and proved to be the class of the Big East by crushing Connecticut 43-16 in their first conference match-up two weeks ago. This week all eyes will be on the Mountaineers again as they make their first trip on the road in Big East play against Syracuse for a big time Friday night contest.
For Syracuse, this will be a huge opportunity to prove they can contend within the Big East this season. The Orange are currently 4-2 on the season with losses to Southern California and a devastating double overtime defeat to Rutgers in their conference opener. Interestingly, Syracuse was 4-2 at this time last year when they delivered a big upset to West Virginia 19-14 in Morgantown. This week the Orange will be attempting to shock the nation with another surprising victory when they host the Mountaineers inside the Carrier Dome.
For Syracuse to deliver the upset, they will need a big game from their defense. In last year’s win over West Virginia, the Syracuse defense played outstanding by holding the West Virginia offense to just 284 total yards and forcing 3 turnovers in that ballgame. This year West Virginia has an even better offense averaging just over 500 yards per game and Syracuse’s defense has not been as good compared to their 2010 campaign. Therefore, the Orange will need another big performance from their defense in order to put together any “upset” possibilities.
So far this season, the Syracuse defense has not proved that they can stop any offense much less one of the better offenses in the entire country like West Virginia. On the year, Syracuse ranks 71st in total defense giving up 371 yards per game and has also given up 27 points per game (67th in NCAA). To make matters worse, Syracuse has been one of the worse teams in the entire country against the pass giving up an embarrassing 293 yards per game through the air. With those types of numbers, it would be hard to imagine Syracuse shutting down the West Virginia offense again this year. However, the Syracuse defense can help their chances by limiting the big plays and coming up with a few turnovers to help the struggling Syracuse offense.
The Syracuse offense as mentioned has not been overly impressive this season. The Syracuse offense ranks 96th overall in total offense averaging just 333 yards per game. Running back Antwan Bailey has posted decent numbers on the ground with 553 yards and 5 touchdowns. However, the offense ranks 99th in rushing because Bailey is nearly the only guy on the team to gain any positive yards on the ground.
Therefore, if Syracuse is going to contend I believe QB Ryan Nassib will need to have a big game. So far this season, Nassib has been solid completing 65% passing for 1,294 yards with 11 scores and 4 picks. Nassib’s only real “bad” game this season come in the double overtime loss to Rutgers’ in a game where he threw 3 picks. Outside of that game, Nassib has been solid and has done a great job of finding the open receiver. Syracuse does not exactly need explosive plays from the offense, but if Nassib can sustain some long successful drives without turning the ball over it will go a long way in keeping the Mountaineers offense off the field.
Speaking of that West Virginia offense, they have simply been explosive to say the least this season. QB Geno Smith has been outstanding completing 64% passing for 2,159 yards with 16 scores and 3 picks. The Mountaineers have stellar wide outs in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin that put together a high power passing attack that has averaged 380 yards per game this season (4th in NCAA).
Both Bailey and Austin have homerun capability and have combined for just less than 1,200 receiving with 7 touchdowns on the season. The passing offense has come up with numerous big plays this season and the West Virginia wide receivers present many challenges for opposing defenses. As mentioned previously, Syracuse has played horribly against the pass this season giving up nearly 300 yards per game. West Virginia has the personnel to exploit weaknesses in the Syracuse secondary so this game will likely lie on the arm of QB Geno Smith. If he delivers, the Mountaineers will continue to roll.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Syracuse may put up a valiant effort here, but in the end the Mountaineers will pull away. My wager is on West Virginia -14.
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