Andrew Renneisen | Staff PhotographerFootball
Syracuse prepares to slow down West Virginia’s prolific passing attack in penultimate Pinstripe Bowl practice
NEW YORK – Dan Vaughan doesn’t need to be reminded about West Virginia’s appearance in the Orange Bowl last season. The linebacker knows all about the Mountaineers’ 70-33 thrashing of Clemson.
And he knows the Syracuse defense is responsible for making sure Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense don’t have a repeat performance.
“I’m very well aware,” Vaughan said. “We’re going to try to not let that happen.”
Syracuse held its second-to-last practice at Columbia University’s Baker Athletics Complex Thursday in preparation for the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday. Practicing in miserable weather conditions of bitter cold and a constant misty rain, the Orange’s task of trying to shut down the Mountaineers for the third straight season intensifies by the day.
Vaughan said Syracuse is comfortable with the game plan for Saturday, having installed it and practiced it during the 12 practices when the team was still in Syracuse. Now the only thing the Orange has to try and stop – and can’t prepare for – is the level of motivation West Virginia has as it looks for revenge against Syracuse.
“Revenge is a powerful thing and they’ve got revenge on their side,” Vaughan said. “We did them the last two times, and I think we have confidence going into this game and we’re going to play our hearts out so we’ll see what happens.”
As game day approaches, the cold weather continues to take on importance. Both teams have offenses that thrive on their passing games, but that might take a backseat to their rushing attacks on Saturday.
Trying to throw the ball and catch it in such frigid temperatures could force their plans from the air to the ground. Center Macky MacPherson said handling the football is an even greater challenge.
“Obviously you could see it out there, it’s hard to throw the football. But we like that, especially as an offensive line,” MacPherson said. “Whenever we run the ball well, we play well. We feel like we’re going to be able to run the ball, especially in this kind of weather.”
If Smith can’t utilize his two stud receivers, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, as much as he would like, he has a running back in Andrew Buie that racked up 817 yards on the ground this season. Austin could also shift to the backfield. He ran for 598 yards in the regular season, in addition to his 1,259 receiving yards.
“We’re going to work hard,” cornerback Brandon Reddish said Wednesday. “We’re going to watch film, study what they like to do, their tendencies.”
MacPherson said the Mountaineers’ ground game doesn’t get as much attention because of the flashy numbers Bailey and his receivers put up on a game-by-game basis. But Syracuse is preparing for and ready to see West Virginia’s ground game firsthand.
“They have a good running attack,” MacPherson said. “They just haven’t used it as much because they have a good quarterback and two very good receivers.”
Syracuse worked on everything from blocking to punt returns on Wednesday. The Orange has one more day to learn its game plan to perfection before it tries to execute it on Saturday.
As the temperature drops and throws a wrench into Syracuse’s preparation, it’s also getting the Orange ready even more. Whether it attacks West Virginia through the air or on the ground, Syracuse should be able to play in any weather conditions on Saturday.
“It’s a little tough, especially in the cold and the wet and the rain. That’s probably what we’ll be playing in on Saturday,” MacPherson said. “When we get out there and we play the game, we’ll be used to it.”
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