Syracuse’s defensive game plan to put consistent pressure on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and shut down the Mountaineer offense worked to perfection in SU’s 49-23 upset over No. 11 West Virginia on Friday.
Although Smith finished with 338 yards and two touchdowns, he also tied a season high with two interceptions and tied a season low with a 58.5 completion percentage.
“We just had to do a good job of keeping the quarterback off balance, and we did a good job with that for most of the game,” Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said. “We did give up some big plays, but everyone knew what the game plan was. You have to keep him off balance and keep mixing it up.”
Smith was also sacked four times, including two from defensive end Chandler Jones, who returned after missing five games with an injury.
The game showed how much Syracuse had missed Jones in his absence. West Virginia came into the game ranked 13th in the NCAA with 40.8 points per game. The Orange, meanwhile, had just given up 34 points to an anemic Tulane offense two weeks ago.
But with Jones back in the lineup, along with defensive backs Olando Fisher and Shamarko Thomas, the Orange defense looked like the defense that was ranked No. 7 in the NCAA last season.
“They blitz almost on every snap,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Even when they didn’t blitz, their pass rush was better than our pass blocking. That’s what really exposed us. It was exposed by their defensive line and their linebackers. They were just beating us up.”
The Orange also bottled up the West Virginia running game. Although the Mountaineers are a pass-heavy team, they still average more than 115 yards on the ground per game.
West Virginia had no such luck on Friday, as they finished with just 70 yards, averaging just 2.9 yards a carry.
“They completely dominated us on all three sides,” Holgorsen said. “There won’t be any finger-pointing. This was a team loss. We have to give Syracuse credit for having more energy and being more excited to play.”
Still, Syracuse’s best defense was its offense.
Syracuse held the ball for 35:55 compared to 24:05 for West Virginia. The Orange had six drives of three minutes or longer, keeping Smith and the offense on the bench.
“I saw (the difference in possession time) and told (offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett), ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, man, because that time of possession is helping us.’” Syracuse defensive coordinator Scott Shafer said. “West Virginia has a very explosive offense, one of the top five offenses in the country.”
Corey Mallonee contributed to this article with reporting from Syracuse.