Syracuse defense stifles West Virginia

NEW YORK — All week, Syracuse linebacker Siriki Diabate kept hearing the same questions.

How was the Orange going to stop West Virginia’s potent offense? How were they going to slow down the presumed No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Geno Smith? Could the defense contain West Virginia’s talented receivers?

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It was all smiles for Syracuse on Saturday

Diabate and his defense answered that question emphatically on Saturday, as the Orange used a stellar defensive effort in dismantling West Virginia, 38-14, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

“All we heard was, ‘How are we going to be able to stop them?’ Diabate said. “We were very confident. We knew what we were able to do.”

» Related: Syracuse rushing attack blitzes Mountaineers

The Mountaineers came in as one of the top offensive teams in the country. They averaged 41.6 points per game, good for 7th in the nation, while their passing attack was 5th at 340 yards a game.

But it became apparently early in the game that a deep passing attack wasn’t going to be effective. The ball was constantly slippery because of snow and the wind and cold made it difficult to throw the ball deep. Smith only threw for 197 yards, and the Mountaineers gained just 285 total yards.

“Obviously, (the weather) had some effect,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They didn’t throw for many yards either. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. I think we did a poor job of overcoming adversity.”

While Syracuse adjusted, running the ball 65 times, West Virginia never seemed to get its ground game going. They were outgained by the Orange 369 to 88 in that department.

To be sure, Syracuse’s defense had a lot to do with it. They forced a pair of safeties and sacked quarterback Geno Smith four times. The Orange also limited the Mountaineers to a combined 0-14 on third and fourth down conversions.

“I think without throwing, our defense did a good job keeping them in long distances (on third down),” Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said.

» Related: Is Doug Marrone headed to the NFL?

The game mirrored last year’s 49-23 upset of then-No. 15 West Virginia.

In that game, the Orange pressured Smith all night, forcing him into two interceptions.

Heading into Saturday, the coaching staff’s game plan for containing West Virginia was simple: If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.

“Pretty much about the same,” Diabate said when asked to compare the 2011 game plan to Saturday’s. “We didn’t change nothing against those guys.”

For the third time in a row, it worked.

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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