Familiarity between Syracuse, West Virginia adds rivalry vibes to Pinstripe Bowl
NEW YORK – It’s a bowl game without the element that makes these college football showcases so unique. Syracuse and West Virginia have a deep-rooted rivalry. These two programs will play each other, as they have every season since 1955.
But this time it’s in a bowl game, a setting that usually pits new opponents against each other.
On Saturday at 3:15 p.m at Yankee Stadium, the Mountaineers will have a chance to exact revenge while the Orange look to defend its supremacy in the Pinstripe Bowl. Players from both teams spoke at Yankee Stadium Wednesday about playing a team they know so well.
Syracuse beat West Virginia in each of the last two seasons, and the Mountaineers have the extra motivation to make up for those losses. But when they moved to the Big 12 last summer, they didn’t think they’d get the opportunity. Now Syracuse moves back onto their schedule, extending the life of the rivalry.
“I mean just because we’re playing a familiar team,” Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib said. “We’re playing a team that prior to this year we played every year in the regular season, so I mean it’s a bit strange in that fact. But at the end of the day, it’s just another football team.”
Nassib and the Orange played in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl, where they beat Kansas State 36-34 behind Delone Carter’s 198 rushing yards and Marcus Sales’ 172 receiving yards. It was a dazzling offensive performance, the type Syracuse will likely need in this year’s Pinstripe Bowl against one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Geno Smith.
West Virginia finished the regular season eighth in the country in total offense with 518.5 yards per game. Smith was fourth in the country with 333.67 yards per game. Syracuse, though, was 21st with 473.42 yards per game. Nassib finished with 301.58 yards per game, good for 13th in the nation.
So the expectation, of course, is that it’s going to be a shootout between two gun-slinging quarterbacks. There’s potential for these two offenses to light up Yankee Stadium.
“Every game we’ve played this year, everybody says it’s going to be a shootout,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I’m looking forward to seeing our defense out there and see if we’ve made some improvements, and I think we have.”
“Talk is cheap. You’ve just got to go out there and play the game. You show your actions. Don’t use your words, show your actions.”
Shamarko Thomas, strong safety
Holgorsen said playing the Orange “made his job a little easier.” He could pull out the game film from the last two seasons and see exactly what the Mountaineers did wrong that sent them to upset losses to Syracuse. Since this season was WVU’s first in the Big 12, preparations for the Pinstripe Bowl were the first time the Mountaineers were familiar with their opponents.
And as far as preparing his players for the game, his job is also easier, he said. They already know they have something to accomplish, ratcheting up the rivalry even more.
“Those guys have beaten us twice,” Smith said. “We didn’t get a chance to play them this year in the regular season, but being able to play these guys in the Pinstripe Bowl is just another way for us as seniors, as a program, to go out there and prove others wrong as we’ve always done.”
West Virginia struggled in its first season in the Big 12. The Mountaineers won their first five games before losing the next five, which were all conference games. In that stretch, they gave up 49.6 points per game.
West Virginia’s defense struggled all season, but Syracuse left tackle Justin Pugh said it can still be a strong unit. Pugh said he watched the Mountaineers run a new defensive package on film where they bring in smaller players, “linebacker-type hybrids” as Pugh called them, to add some quickness to the defense as it looks to rush the quarterback.
It’s a new look and a new wrinkle for a team the Orange is used to playing.
“So that’s something different from what they had last year,” Pugh said. “I know last year they kept their bigger three-man front in, and now they bring this other package in.”
Besides that, most of the players who played in last season’s game at the Carrier Dome are back. The familiarity between the two sides is deep. It’s a bowl game, but there’s nothing unique about the matchup.
And with West Virginia seeking revenge, the rivalry continues at an even more intense level.
“Talk is cheap. You’ve just got to go out there and play the game,” Syracuse strong safety Shamarko Thomas said. “You show your actions. Don’t use your words, show your actions.”
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