Football

SNOW PLOW: Syracuse dominates West Virginia on the ground to win Pinstripe Bowl for 2nd time in 3 years

NEW YORK – Syracuse’s running backs carried the Orange to a remarkable turnaround during the regular season. So it was only fitting that in the season-finale Pinstripe Bowl, with the spotlight on, that the tailbacks barreled through one more defense and put up numbers that are glaringly spectacular.

On a slick surface, Prince-Tyson Gulley ran for 208 yards and Jerome Smith bulldozed through West Virginia’s defense for 157 yards on the ground. As a team, Syracuse ran for an astounding 369 yards. Together, Gulley and Smith put Syracuse on their backs one more time and led the Orange to a 38-14 win over the Mountaineers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium Saturday, leaving the 39,098 fans in attendance, and even their coach, awestruck.

“It was just fun to watch those guys step up and know that they were the ones that were going to have to win that game,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “And they did.”

Hackett said he told Gulley three weeks ago that there were plays designed for him, including taking screen passes from quarterback Ryan Nassib, that West Virginia had trouble covering. They worked for the whole game. Gulley, who won the Pinstripe Bowl’s Most Valuable Player award, finished with 56 receiving yards in addition to his ground attack. Once he made those catches, he used his speed to pick up chunks of yardage.

The game that was expected to be a shootout became a battle of running games. Frigid temperatures rendered the powerful arms of Nassib and West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith practically useless as many of their passes bounced off receivers’ hands or chests. Whoever could run over the other team would win. West Virginia could only muster 88 rushing yards, also a result of a stellar defensive performance by the Orange.

Gulley nearly hit that mark himself by halftime. He finished Syracuse’s third drive of the second quarter with a 33-yard touchdown run where he went virtually untouched. It gave the Orange a 12-0 lead and set a tone for the rest of the game. Afterward, he deflected credit onto Syracuse’s offensive line, which created wide-open gaps for him to burst through.

“Our linemen came out to play,” Gulley said. “They opened up a lot of good holes and made it very easy for us to pick where we were going. They were doing a great job for us, I credit them for that.”

Just one play after turning the ball over with 7:16 left in the third quarter, Syracuse forced and recovered a Geno Smith fumble. On the very next play, Gulley ran up the right side, broke free from a tackle and sprinted up the right sideline into a wide-open field for a 67-yard touchdown to give the Orange a 26-7 lead.

The Mountaineers responded with a touchdown of their own, but it didn’t matter. They couldn’t stop Syracuse’s running backs. And it cost them.

Gulley and Smith are complementary parts to an offense that has run perfectly for the past two months.

Smith is the power back. He runs through defenders with strength. Gulley is the quick, one-cut-and-run tailback. Together, they can give opposing defensive coordinators headaches.

They combined for 149 yards in the third quarter. In the Orange’s fourth drive of the quarter, Smith went 17 yards after three plays. Twice, Nassib connected with Gulley for that screen pass designed for the SU tailback to cover 30 yards, including the 9-yard touchdown pass that ballooned Syracuse’s lead to 33-14. The Orange beat West Virginia with a versatile attack.

Hackett said earlier this season that he and SU head coach Doug Marrone challenged their running backs. The offense would rely on them. Everything else would be built around their performances. Smith and Gulley met the challenge and then some.

“It just speaks volumes about how much we grew as a unit,” Smith said. “We grew as a unit and it was definitely a humbling experience when he said, ‘We’re going to put it on you guys.’”

For Gulley, it was a particularly fulfilling performance. The junior was the victim of a stabbing at the start of last season’s training camp. Four games into that season, he broke his collarbone in an off-the-field incident and missed the rest of the year.

After the Pinstripe Bowl win, he sat to Marrone’s right at the postgame press conference. Marrone lauded Gulley several times for how far he’s come and how much he’s gone through to get to this point.

“Prince has been a player that has really worked hard, played with injury, has really come a long way in our program, and I couldn’t be prouder of him sitting next to me,” Marrone said. “A well deserved MVP trophy.”

Gulley and Smith fed off each other all season. In the system that evolved to be built around them, they shined. They helped transform Syracuse into a winning team. They helped bring the Orange into the postseason.

For one last time on Saturday, they carried Syracuse to the top.

“Tyson stepped up to all the challenges,” Hackett said. “Both he and ‘Rome.’ It was fun to watch.”

  • icanewfriend

    Great win. A tale of two seasons in one. A couple of breaks here and there and we would be playing in a BCS bowl game. So goes what is college football.

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