MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Syracuse’s defense came up big to give second-year coach Doug Marrone a signature win in a turnaround season.
Ryan Nassib threw a touchdown pass, Ross Krautman kicked four field goals and Syracuse scored nine points off turnovers in shocking No. 20 West Virginia 19-14 on Saturday.
Syracuse (5-2, 2-1 Big East) snapped an eight-game losing streak to West Virginia (5-2, 1-1). The Orange made a remarkable turnaround on defense after being throttled at home by Pittsburgh 45-14 last week.
After five straight seasons of last-place finishes, the Orange are in a position to move up in the Big East standings.
“At the end of the year you might say that this was a turning point or that this really helped us,” Marrone said. “But we have two Big East wins and five wins under our belt, but we’re not even near where our goal is – a winning season and a bowl game.”
West Virginia entered the game with the nation’s fourth-best defense, but it was Syracuse that took advantage of its opportunities.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith threw three first-half interceptions and was sacked five times. He entered the game completing 68 percent of his passes, but looked confused by Syracuse’s blitz.
“I just have to get the ball out of my hands quicker,” Smith said. “I have to be more disciplined in my reads.”
Syracuse failed to reach the end zone four times after moving inside the West Virginia 15 in the first half. But those ensuing field goals turned out to be enough.
Neither team scored after halftime.
The Mountaineers had one last shot to take the lead, driving to the Syracuse 20. But linebacker Doug Hogue, who had two interceptions, sacked Smith for a 12-yard loss with 54 seconds left. Smith threw an incompletion on third down and was sacked on fourth down.
The stunned crowd of 58,122 ushered out of the stadium quietly after West Virginia’s 12-game home winning streak ended.
“We’ve got a lot of heavy hearts,” West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. “Maybe I’ve got a football team … that will worry about doing all the little things right and will read a few less press clippings and will take care of business.”
Noel Devine carried 24 times for 122 yards, but West Virginia failed to score on its final 10 possessions.
Syracuse held off the Mountaineers without Delone Carter, who left the game in the second quarter with a bruised hip and didn’t return. Backup Antwon Bailey took over and rushed for a season-high 94 yards on 19 carries.
This was the kind of game that Stewart had predicted.
West Virginia was limited to 99 total yards after halftime and failed to score in the second half for the first time since a 24-3 loss at East Carolina in 2008.
“I’m not at all pleased on how we played intellectually,” Stewart said. “I’m not pleased with the four quarters of the offense and not pleased with the four quarters of the defense. It was a total team defeat.”
After going 0 for 3 with an interception on West Virginia’s first series, Smith completed five straight passes on the next drive, finding Tavon Austin in the back of the end zone from 6 yards for a 7-3 lead.
West Virginia cornerback Keith Tandy, last week’s Big East defensive player of the week, was fooled by a fake handoff on consecutive plays and Nassib found Van Chew on a 17-yard pass and all alone in the end zone from 29 yards to put the Orange up 10-7.
Smith bounced back from a sack with a 17-yard pass on third down to J.D. Woods to the 1 and fullback Ryan Clarke finished off the drive for a 14-10 lead late in the first quarter.
But West Virginia was shut out after that, allowing the Orange to regain momentum.
Krautman kicked first-half field goals of 28, 19, 33 and 22 yards.
“You can’t get much better than this,” Syracuse defensive end Mikhail Marinovich said. “It was a mini bowl win for us.”
The Orange have possession of the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy, named for the winningest coach in Syracuse history and a native of Point Pleasant, W.Va. He also played center for the Mountaineers.
“It means a lot to me,” Marrone said. “We give our players a lot of history on coach Schwartzwalder.”
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