It was a night in which almost nothing went right for the visitors in any phase of play.
The WVU defense was porous, allowing SU to covert 12 of 17 third downs and seemingly failing to cover a tight end on every play. They had not allowed more points in a game in two decades -- a 51-6 loss to Penn State in 1991 being the last time any Mountaineer opponent scored more than the Orange’s 49.
The offense sputtered enough to allow the hosts to out-gain them, and Geno Smith threw two costly interceptions.
Specialists fared no better, with Tyler Bitancurt missing a point-after and the kickoff coverage unit yielding a 98-yard score to the Orange’s Dorian Graham in the second quarter.
"We knew what we were getting ourselves into," said Dana Holgorsen, the first-year WVU coach. "They beat us today on all three sides of the ball. They outplayed us and outcoached us. It's as simple as that."
Add it all up, and the Orange was ripe for its biggest win (in terms of the ranking of the opponent) since a 50-42 victory over then-No. 8 Virginia Tech in 2002.
"It's disappointing because we work so hard," said Smith, WVU's junior quarterback. "It's disappointing we didn't come out and put our best foot forward."
"We had a very good victory tonight," said Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, after a signature win in his third season on the job. "It really means a lot."
It was SU's offense that stole the show. Quarterback Ryan Nassib was as efficient as a signal-caller can be, finding open receivers on seemingly every play. He completed 24 of 32 passes for 229 yards. But he took particular advantage of his tight ends, throwing all four of his touchdowns to them.
Nick Provo came into Friday night’s game with four career touchdown catches. He had three in the first three quarters against the Mountaineers. David Stevens added another, giving Nassib more options than he seemingly knew what to do with.
Player of the Game
"We thought there were some things formationally that we could do and have Provo have a big game in the red zone and be able to do some things on play action," Marrone said. "Going into the game, we did feel that way."
When that wasn’t working, Antwon Bailey was gashing WVU to the tune of 125 yards on 22 carries. The running back added another touchdown. Notably, SU had zero plays for negative yardage.
"There won't be any finger-pointing," Holgorsen said of the defense's struggles. "This was a team loss. We have to give Syracuse credit for having more energy and being more excited to play."
Indeed, Holgorsen’s offense, widely touted as among the nation’s best, was no better than the defense.
It put up respectable yardage totals (408), but managed only 16 points in the first three quarters, with Smith getting sacked four times and tossing a pair of costly picks -- one of which, just before halftime, killed momentum and kept West Virginia from drawing closer in what was a 21-9 game at the intermission.
Given how poorly the Mountaineers (5-2, 1-1) had played to that point, a 12-point deficit hardly seemed a fortuitous break -- and given the way they had played in second halves this season, it hardly seemed insurmountable.
WVU, a team that has thrived in third quarters, looked the part once more, marching down the field on its first possession of the second half. Running back Shawne Alston picked up a first down on fourth-and-inches before powering into the end zone on the next play to make it 21-16.
But Syracuse (5-2, 1-1) answered immediately. It returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, converted a third-and-5 with a 6-yard pass from Nassib to Van Chew, and then Stevens came wide open for a 29-yard score. It was 28-16, and after West Virginia went three-and-out on its next drive, it was clear momentum was back with the hosts.
The outcome was all but decided when Nassib found Provo for a 10-yard score on SU’s subsequent possession, and the Carrier Dome crowd of 45,265 -- the largest crowd for an Orange home game since Marrone’s debut against Minnesota in 2009 -- went wild.
Player of the Game
44.7 yard average
Smith ended any lingering doubts by throwing an interception on the very next play, the last snap of the third quarter. Again, SU cashed in, with Nassib and Provo hooking up for a 5-yard touchdown to make it 42-16.
Brad Starks caught a 25-yard scoring pass to make it 42-23, but Bailey burst into the open field for a 50-yard run just a few snaps later and later plowed through the middle of WVU’s defense for a 3-yard TD to set the final margin.
Provo led a balanced passing attack for the ‘Cuse, catching six passes for 61 yards and three touchdowns. Seven SU players caught multiple passes, and nine caught at least one ball. None of them had more yards than Graham’s 66.
For West Virginia, Smith finished 24-of-41 passing for 338 yards and two touchdowns. Dustin Garrison rushed for 58 yards on 11 carries, and Alston added another 46 yards on nine attempts.
Stedman Bailey had 130 receiving yards -- his fifth-straight game topping the century mark -- including a highlight-reel 64-yard catch-and-run complete with a tightrope walk along the sidelines for a score in the first half.
But that was about all that went right for the Mountaineers on what was otherwise an incredibly long night.
"We're better than we showed today," Smith said. "I believe that. We're going to fight back from this."